Christchurch needs to choose: A roofed rugby stadium or a multi-use arena

Christchurch's proposed 30,000-seat stadium is “designed to meet the requirements of professional rugby”.

Christchurch City Council/Supplied

Christchurch’s proposed 30,000-seat stadium is “designed to meet the requirements of professional rugby”.

Dr Robert Hamlin is a senior lecturer at the Department of Marketing, University of Otago.

OPINION: Each Christchurch ratepayer will have to pay many thousands of dollars over the next 30 years to build and maintain the proposed roofed rugby stadium.

This “invested” money will therefore not be available for other purposes. The economic impact of the stadium investment will work both ways. A dollar that is imported by an out-of-town stadium visitor will multiply through the local economy in a positive manner. However, a dollar that is exported from the community as a cost of the stadium multiplies negatively in exactly the same manner and to the same degree.

It is estimated by the Christchurch City Council (CCC) that the proposed stadium will generate an incoming visitor spend of $16 million per annum. However, the cost of simply servicing the local debt generated by the stadium ($500m over 30 years at 4%) will be in the order of $29ma year. Thus, the CCC’s own figures indicate that the net economic impact of the proposal on Christchurch will be significantly negative even under optimal conditions. Once construction overruns and other significant ongoing costs (eg insurance) are added, the economic shortfall may be massive. The logical, but politically hard, response from the CCC should therefore be not to build it.

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Luckily, there is a route out of this conundrum. Up to this point the debate has been bipolar: “Should the stadium be built or not?” However, in its current online consultation form, the CCC allows a submitter to take three positions: 1) build i’, 2) don’t build i’, or 3) build something different. This third option is worthy of serious investigation.

When considering option three, it is necessary to ask whether it is possible to construct a facility that would benefit Christchurch over the long term both economically and socially. The answer is probably “yes”, but the function/design focus of the proposed structure would need to be radically changed.

The terms “stadium” and “multi use arena” have been used almost interchangeably to describe the facility. This is unfortunate, as stadia and multi-use arenas are mutually exclusive structures that are optimized for different roles and markets. This is especially so for a stadium that is designed to meet the requirements of professional rugby.

In Christchurch, successive concept images show a cost-driven drift away from a multi-use facility and towards a roofed rugby stadium. The city must decide whether it wants a roofed rugby stadium, like the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, or a multi-use arena like the Manchester Arena. It clearly can’t have both in the same building.

The Forsyth Barr Stadium has acted as a prototype for the current proposal. It performs passably in its primary role as a rugby stadium. It has been less friendly to other roles. Its visuals and acoustics for stage acts have been described as “patchy”. The arena is unavailable to any activity that covers the grass for more than a few days. The lighting cannot be controlled in daylight. The biggest issue is that it is not an enclosed arena. The grass needs ventilation, and this necessitates large structural gaps. Therefore, if it is minus three degrees, noisy and windy outside, then that’s how it is inside too. Also, while it is too small for the ABs, it is too big for many other uses. Because, the Forsyth Barr Stadium has spent most of the last decade empty.

Manchester Arena cannot be used for rugby but has been used for skating (pictured) and boxing, as well as music gigs.

vague onthehow/Stuff

Manchester Arena cannot be used for rugby but has been used for skating (pictured) and boxing, as well as music gigs.

This is in contrast to the Manchester Arena, one of the premiere multi-use arenas in Britain. The Manchester Arena cannot be used for professional rugby, as it has no grass, and with an ‘optimal’ capacity of 20,000 is significantly smaller than the Forsyth Barr Stadium. However, any user can hire the fully enclosed venue for as long as they like. The flexibility of the design allows them to set up the stage and the auditorium to match their requirements, and they have total control over wind, temperature acoustics and lighting. As a result, the Manchester Arena is in constant use for a very wide variety of mega acts and audiences.

A similar structure in Christchurch would be unique in New Zealand, and could support many more than the four big events a year forecast by the CCC for its roofed rugby alternative. Removing the rugby requirement means that a fully capable structure could be built within the original $500m envelope, while maintaining the $200m government contribution. It would also cost much less to maintain and run.

This makes it much more likely that a true multi-use arena would return a positive social and economic return on the investment were Christchurch to move in this direction.

Christchurch is a vibrant, outward and forward-looking community. It needs to host a wide range of public events, beyond rugby, to reflect that status. This ambition is far better supported by a true multi-use arena than by a roofed rugby stadium.

The public can vote online on the future of the proposed stadium until July 5 at the Christchurch City Council’s Have Your Say.

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