Ratepayer-funded cricket lights

Ratepayers will be asked to reach into their pockets to help secure the future of top-flight international cricket at University Oval.

The Otago Cricket Association has asked for Dunedin City Council help to pay for floodlights at the venue.

The lights would cost about $2.5 million, and be bought initially by the association, which planned to fundraise $500,000 and borrow the rest, a council staff report said.

The association wanted the lights installed before the end of the year, in time to secure a larger slice of New Zealand Cricket's inbound tour programme - featuring three tours each by India, England and Australia - over the next eight years.

However, the council would be asked to buy the lights from the association over the next three years, and pay for their upkeep. In the meantime, the association would make interest-only payments on the loan used to pay for the lights, and wanted a ''rent holiday'' from fees paid for the use of the council-owned ground.

The $2 million paid by the council to buy the lights would be used by the association to repay its original bank loan.

In return, the association would ask New Zealand Cricket to guarantee ''adequate'' international cricket at the venue over the next seven years, boosting the city's profile and economy.

And, once the lights were owned by the council, the association could pay a higher ground usage fee, up from $10,000 per game for test matches to $40,000 per test.

The proposal was part of the association's wider plan to continue developing the ground, also including an expanded embankment as ''stage two''.

That would lift the venue's permanent capacity from 3500 to 5500, or from 5600 to 8000 if temporary seating was used.

New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White, in a letter to the council dated December 2, said a capacity of ''no less than 6000'' was needed to secure top-level test cricket and most one-day and T20 internationals.

Floodlights were also ''essential'', both for T20 cricket and as the sport eyed the introduction of day-night test matches to secure a greater slice of the Asian television market.

The proposal would be considered by councillors at next week's long-term plan pre-draft deliberations.

However, the report by council project and asset management team leader Hamish Black's sounded a note of caution.

The association first raised the idea of new floodlights last year, but at the time agreed one of the ''non-negotiables'' was that it could not expect ''significant'' financial help from the council.

Since then, the association had not raised any funds for the project, and the proposed time frame appeared ''highly ambitious'', Mr Black said.

Installing lights would make the oval the only floodlit cricket venue in the South Island, but Hagley Oval, in Christchurch, had consent to install four ''retractable'' light towers.

Council ownership of the lights would be consistent with other ground assets, already owned by the council, but would also come at a cost, he said.

The $2 million needed to buy the lights from the association would be loan-funded, adding $193,200 a year to the council's debt-servicing costs and pushing rates up by 0.15%.

Additional costs and reduced ground rental for the deal's first three years would add another $44,700 per year to the bill.

In later years, increased revenue from ground usage fees could be higher than the lights' operating costs, but that depended on the number of games allocated.chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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