Eden Park row: Could concerts save the home of the All Blacks?
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110866901/-

2019-06-11 16:44:32

The country's most famous stadium, Eden Park, would have a more secure financial future with the changing of one word.

A lucrative revenue stream from staging concerts is currently blocked by them being classified as "discretionary" activities in the planning rules that govern the stadium.

The six concerts provided for in planning controls can happen only if each is granted a resource consent, following a process that can be long and costly.

If Auckland's development blueprint, the Unitary Plan, deemed the concerts "permitted", they could be staged as of right.

The Eden Park Trust Board won't say what six concerts a year would be worth, but they could be a game-changer for its presently-troubled financial future.

Some estimates say that six concerts a year could bring in $6 million for the cash-strapped park - a big step towards financial viability.

But making those concerts easier to hold would require some delicate political manoeuvring by all involved, in the face of some entrenched local opposition.

Auckland Council looks likely, over the coming months, to bail out the board, which cannot afford to repay a $40m bank loan falling due.

It also will not be able to afford $62m of essential maintenance over the next decade.

The stadium's shift from Rugby World Cup showcase to financial problem-child has a long history – and poses some big challenges.

IN THE BEGINNING

The site of Eden Park was first used for cricket after being bought and cleared in 1902.

Rugby arrived in 1914 and from 1926 the stadium was owned by the Eden Park Trust Board, with rugby and cricket appointees.

Five Government appointees joined to oversee the $190m of taxpayers' money put in for the major upgrade to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The trust borrowed a further $40m for that upgrade.

THE LOAN

The loan's repayment was guaranteed by the council and while the trust board has been paying the annual interest bill of about $1.5m, it cannot afford to pay back the loan.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said while no decision has been made, he would prefer the council pay the bank and charge the trust board a market interest rate for a new loan, secured against the stadium property.

That decision is due before the council sets its annual budget in June.

REPORT'S DARK FORECAST

In seeking a clearer picture of the trust's financial future, the council hired consultants Ernst and Young, whose report painted a grim picture.

Declining revenue, partly from a short-term dip in international cricket and rugby fixtures, and partly from weaker corporate box and membership sales, mean the stadium could run up losses of nearly $80m in the next decade, including depreciation and write-offs.

Essential maintenance of $62m, including a new turf and lighting, would also be beyond the trust board's means.

The council is now considering whether to lend or grant the stadium money for that work – and if so, how much.

THE NEIGHBOURS

Like other famous stadiums, Eden Park sits in the middle of an increasingly gentrified residential neighbourhood.

It is those neighbours, some for the stadium and some against, who play the key role in Eden Park's long-term future.

The strength of the signals sent by the residents is likely to condition the political response of Auckland councillors, who play a critical role in decision-making.

There is no doubt that Eden Park needs to be viable for at least another 10-15 years as Auckland's world-class stadium.

Beyond that, it might have to compete with the case for a new, possibly downtown stadium, and the strength of local opposition to Eden Park remaining will be important.

The most effective lobby has been the Eden Park Neighbours' Association, which has argued against more relaxed planning controls.

The pro-stadium Eden Park Residents' Association recently held its first meeting to step up as the voice for the "remainers".

But the politicians also have a medium-term role in whether the one word determining Eden Park finances gets changed.

THE CONCERTS

Eden Park's first serious attempt to stage one of the six concerts it can seek each year did not end well.

The charity event, to be staged by the trust board and the Sir Ray Avery Foundation, was opposed by some residents and was canned when the resource consent application process seemed certain to be contested, costly, and long-running.

Six successful concerts in a year could in some estimates be worth $6m annually, well on the way to keeping the trust board's financial head above water.

But there are questions around who would lead the politically contentious move to seek a change to the Unitary Plan rule book to make concerts "permitted".

Goff has said he thought the trust board should, but it would be a fraught process without some careful community consultation.

Christine Fletcher, one of two councillors in the Albert Eden Roskill ward in which the stadium sits, has backed a viable future for Eden Park.

The centre-right Communities and Residents ticket for the local board also supports more activities – the first hint of the stadium becoming a local body election-year issue.

OTHER OPTIONS

Auckland's other major football venue, Mt Smart Stadium, is expected to be at the end of its life when the 10-year contract with rugby league's Warriors ends in 2028.

The cost of keeping it would include a $354m grandstand rebuild.

By then Auckland – and its council - would need a viable, up-to-scratch Eden Park or be well on the way to developing a replacement elsewhere, the cost of which is like to be north of $1.5 billion.

An improved relationship between the trust board, the council and its venue arm Regional Facilities Auckland would have to precede that point.

The three decisions in Eden Park's future get progressively harder: The immediate financial bailout, the question of relaxing the planning rules, and then the decade-plus issue of sticking with Eden Park, or demolishing it for central suburb housing.

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