Christchurch looks to Dunedin for stadium tips

Stewart Barnett said the new multi-purpose arena needs to be supported by regional councils as well as the city council. Photo: Star.kiwi
Stewart Barnett said the new multi-purpose arena needs to be supported by regional councils as well as the city council. Photo: Star.kiwi

A new multi-purpose arena is one step closer as $220 million of Government funding was approved by the city council recently. Stewart Barnett, a key player in the development of Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr stadium shares concerns about the Christchurch development and tips for success. Julia Evans reports.

A key player in the development of Forsyth Barr Stadium has questioned whether Christchurch’s proposed $500 million stadium will be built in the right place.

“Location is paramount,” Stewart Barnett says.

Mr Barnett challenged whether the designated three blocks bound by Hereford, Tuam, Madras, and Barbadoes Sts was right.

“Eight or nine years ago people with the best will in the world planned out a city after an earthquake, but that should be a living document, should evolve as our city evolves and should not be cast in stone.”

“I do think there is a problem building a stadium in residential areas, just look at Eden Park. You’re creating problems,” he said.

Now based in Christchurch, Mr Barnett was a trustee on the Carisbrook Stadium Charitable Trust and project director for the Rangi Ruru Girls’ School rebuild. In 2016 he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He was the guest speaker at former Mayor Garry Moore’s Tuesday Club this week.

A panoramic view of Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night. Photos: Peter McIntosh
A panoramic view of Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photos: Peter McIntosh

He said the stadium’s design in the pre-feasibility study was also to be questioned.

“Like most people I thought we were building a modern multi-purpose stadium that would be used for sport and art and was basically a replacement of Lancaster Park. But when I look in the paper, it looks like a performing arts centre that will occasionally hold some sport.”

Mr Barnett said the success of Forsyth Barr was that it was not designed to be an indoor stadium.

“Otago was not looking for an indoor stadium at all, we set out to build an outdoor stadium with a fixed roof.”

However, it was making sure the cost to the ratepayer was kept to a minimum drove the Forsyth project, he said.

“We set out with a budget for $198 million all up and we wished to build the actual cost of the stadium for $165.4 million . . . we actually delivered at $167.9 million which annoyed the hell out of me because it wasn’t precise, it was 1.3 per cent wrong. The reason you get annoyed is because it’s not your money, it’s the ratepayers’.”

Mr Barnett said the simplest way of thinking about it was breaking the figure down into the cost of the stadium divided by seats – $500 million divided by 25,000.

“We monitored ourselves on price per seat. It is the most simple calculation. Basically, Otago came in $7200 per seat. Presently we’re looking at $20,000 per seat in Christchurch.”

Forsyth Barr was funded by the Dunedin City Council, the Otago Regional Council, the Government, Otago University and the Otago Community Trust.

“The regional council put in $37.5 million. These stadiums are regional stadiums and basically, we sold the stadium on Waitaki south. We had funding and support from Queenstown and Invercargill because they knew if they didn’t, they would have to travel to Christchurch to see any rugby or concerts or sport or anything.”

“The DCC was required in the finish to fund $146.5 million so that was what the ratepayers funded. That’s a very important number when you look at what the project did and achieved.”

Meanwhile, the Christchurch ratepayer is facing a bill of about $253 million with taxpayers then footing the additional $220 million from the Government.

Of Canterbury’s regional councils, only the Selwyn District Council has puts its hand up to contribute. Waimakariri and Hurunui remain cautious.

But Mr Barnett said those councils were necessary.

“You’ve got a problem, the stadium is for the enlarged area. It’s not a Christchurch stadium, it should never be a Christchurch stadium. So it’s involving everyone. We want the money from everywhere we can find it.”

However, said the inner-city’s design “does not want rural money” by making it too hard to drive into and park.

Mr Barnett said as well as regional councils, national experts should be utilised to save costs.

“When Dunedin looked at building a stadium, we went to Wellington who were the last people who had built a stadium and said: ‘Look, would you second someone onto our committee and tell us what we shouldn’t do’.”

He said that way, no one spent money unnecessarily.

“We have a lot of knowledge in New Zealand and we have to use that knowledge to ensure that Christchurch doesn’t pay for it again because everyone else has already paid for it,” Mr Barnett said.

It is also key to investigate different models to help pay back the stadium.

“There must be other models and I think it’s up to Christchurch to look and see what other models are out there to pay off projects where not everybody is going to use them all the time.”

He said a recent stadium built in Jacksonville, Florida, put a levy on drinks, food and ticket prices, which went directly into paying for the stadium, not the council coffers.

“In effect, the users paid the stadium off.”

Mr Barnett also suggested a large scale event rate for bars, restaurants and hotels, which are the main benefactors of stadiums. But they should also invest before the stadium is finished.

“We raised in the community $45.5 million – the biggest private raising ever . . . it clearly indicates that the private sector has to come to the party and shows itself willing to commit to at least a five-year horizon, if not further,” he said.

Dunedin now has a world-first grass-turf multi-purpose stadium that has brought in more than $210 million in economic benefits in the last seven years.

It has piped Christchurch in securing concerts such as Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran, Pink and Kendrick Lamar, as well as national and international sporting events.

About 60 to 70 per cent of tickets were sold to people outside of Dunedin.

“We built it for the community and the community have found that they use it,” Mr Barnett said.

“Stadiums have been around the world for years, look at the Colosseum. Basically, they bring people together to share moments and make memories.”

But he said he did not want to be involved in developing Christchurch’s stadium.

“There are a lot of intelligent people working on it,” Mr Barnett said.

•Have Your Say: What do you think of Stewart Barnett’s views?

Email julia.evans@starmedia.kiwi

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