6 May 2024

The great stadium debate

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 6 May 2024

The stadium debate in Auckland has been raging for decades and may be close to a final decision. That doesn't mean the argument is over

The proposed new precinct at Auckland's Quay Park features a stadium. (Mock-up image)

The proposed new precinct at Auckland's Quay Park features a stadium. (Mock-up image) Photo: Supplied / HKS ARCHITECTS

If building one of Auckland's possible waterfront stadiums was funded privately, it would need to hold a sold-out Ed Sheeran concert every weekday for 25 years.

That's Rob Hamlin's finding - he's a senior marketing lecturer at the University of Otago.

"It's not going to happen - forget about it," he tells The Detail. 

Auckland is the latest New Zealand city to go through a contentious stadium debate. An Auckland Council working group is considering four proposals to upgrade its stadia - three options in the central city and one to redevelop Eden Park.

Upgrading Eden Park looks like being the frontrunner, but Hamlin isn't convinced city councillors won't pull a surprise on us. 

"Let's say we're looking at the option known as 'The Crater'," Hamlin says. That's a proposal for a waterfront stadium sunk into the seabed.

"It's the most expensive of the three - by a small margin. That's $2 billion, so if you were going to say that's entirely built by private money... you're going to have to generate, after all of your expenses have been paid, $160 million a year to justify the use of that private capital in that building. That's $3 million a week."

Hamlin sees what's going on in Auckland as a repeat of the Dunedin debate, as its roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium, built in 2011, caused conflict and controversy.

"At the moment, the events are tracking along very similarly,'' he says.

"The Dunedin stadium started with a proposal to upgrade the old stadium at Carisbrook ... then all of a sudden this suggestion came more or less out of left field that we should build a new stadium up in the other end of town near the university."

The cost reached $224.4 million, and Hamlin believes it's been a bad use of ratepayers' money.

"Professional sport is now a business and if that sport cannot pay its way, it doesn't happen in the form that they would want it to happen."

Public affairs consultant Brian Finn has written extensively about stadia, especially in Auckland. He takes The Detail through where Auckland's four stadia - Eden Park, Mt Smart, North Harbour and Western Springs - are at now; then considers the four proposals to upgrade the city's stadium. 

"You can't put a roof on Eden Park and build two new stands and do it much cheaper, if cheaper at all, than building a new stadium, the structural work is so significant," he argues.

His pick out of the three options is "Te Tōangaroa" - a development beside Spark Arena, featuring a 50,000 seat stadium and an All Blacks branded hotel. 

"Full disclosure - I don't work for that group but I've had a connection to them going back a few years," he says.

"I actually think it's a really compelling vision - it's not the waterfront and it makes use of a part of town that's currently underused and not fully developed."

Auckland councillors are due to discuss the stadium proposal at the end of the month, after its working group has given a recommendation. 

Check out how to listen to and follow The Detail here.  

You can also stay up-to-date by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter