Stadium's hard act to follow

Making a success of Forsyth Barr Stadium was always going to be difficult, and to all appearances it has become even harder.

First, the Highlanders turned its last rugby season of promise into dross, leaving a difficult legacy for next year.

Then, this week, came the news chief executive Darren Burden is leaving.

Whatever the right or wrongs of building the stadium, most agree Dunedin has little choice now but to forge ahead and make the most of it. The money, $200 something million

- depending on how the figures are tallied and what is taken into account - has been spent and the city has big debts to work down. It also has an expensive facility to run and maintain.

So far, the stadium has lived up to the expectations of many, with the last financial year most promising.

Watching sport there is intimate and exciting. Despite its grand history, and even if it was tarted up, Carisbrook was poor by comparison.

The stadium was ready as a showpiece for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the atmosphere was superb.

Subsequently, there have been packed out rugby tests, some big Highlanders matches, a Ranfurly Shield defence and a good crowd to a Warriors' pre-season fixture and for the first of the Phoenix football appearances.

The stadium wins the plaudits of visiting teams and officials and out-of-province spectators.

Sensibly, the stadium has been used for various student and community events.

Elton John's performance was memorable, and Paul Simon and Aerosmith were successes, despite some sound issues.

All up, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML), which runs the stadium and the Dunedin Town Hall and Dunedin Centre, reports there were ''60 main bowl events'' as well as 175 meetings, conferences or functions off the field for the 2012-13 year.

But it is now seven months since Aerosmith and, while plenty of international entertainment stars have come to Auckland, and some to Christchurch, the lack of further big acts in the South has been conspicuous.

Looking forward, not all is bleak.

The Warriors are back early next year - a shame though for a pre-season rather than a competition fixture - and the rugby test against the English will be highly anticipated.

Anyone with any interest in sport should also revel in the feast of world under-20 football games.

Maybe, too, the Highlanders, full of big names and mediocre results last year, can surprise next season on the back of its largely written-off roster.

DVML revealed a loss for the 2012-13 year of nearly $1 million, progress after a $3.2 million loss the year before. Income rose and costs fell.

To be fair, it should be noted DVML has to pay $4 million in rent each year to cover stadium debt-servicing costs.

Given the fact stadiums are notorious loss-makers, to generate income of more than $8.2 million was impressive.

And given the spread of different types of events, it has been reasonable to describe the stadium, at least for that year, as multi-purpose.

On the other hand, the council has felt it necessary to increase DVML funding via a $400,000-a-year events attraction fund and subsidies community use.

The loss of Mr Burden, who has been involved from stadium planning day, could be a significant blow.

He takes much experience and intellectual property to the venues leadership role in Christchurch.

In particular, he will be able to play a key role as interests in Christchurch and nationally push for a covered stadium there.

While this might still be a long way off because of pressing post-earthquake priorities, there is strong establishment and rugby pressure to build the proposed 35,000-seat stadium, deliberately bigger than in Dunedin.

How many rugby A-grade tests will Dunedin host when that happens?

How many Paul Simons will come this far south?Even now, it is hard to see the financial improvements for the next few years being met.

The successes of the last year are hard acts to follow.

In the meantime, the DVML board will have to find the right chief executive replacement.

And it and the staff will have to work cleverly and assiduously both to build stadium use and restrict expenditure.

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