Eden Park: Cricket in the way of big-money plans

Persuading Auckland Cricket to shift to a revamped Western Springs is seen as the key to unlocking the commercial potential of Eden Park and turning it into a stadium used almost exclusively by football codes.

Negotiations between Auckland Cricket and Regional Facilities Auckland are ongoing - the latter keen to strike a deal which will open the way for a retail project and transport hub to be built on the No2 ground.

Not only would the RFA save about $2m in administrative costs by housing a unified stadium management team at Eden Park, they could also generate significant revenue by redeveloping the existing outer oval.

But Auckland Cricket have tenancy rights at Eden Park which are protected by government statute. Domestic cricket only returned to Eden Park last season, after shifting to Colin Maiden Park during redevelopments ahead of the Rugby World Cup. Auckland Cricket have no obvious incentive to move but discussions remain ongoing.

"Eden Park was built in the early 1900s but in some significant respects it is still an uncompleted project," says RFA CEO Robert Domm. "The number two ground provides the key to unlocking the potential of not just Eden Park but also the surrounding area."

One of the RFA ideas is for a retail development on that land. A multi-level carpark and a public transport hub have also been discussed.

"There are a number of problems with Eden Park and its location," says Domm. "One of them is traffic, parking and access to public transport. A lot of the objections from surrounding residents are game-day impacts - road closures, parking on residential streets by fans etc.

"A redevelopment of the number two ground would enable you to build a public transport interchange. You could also build carparking so people wouldn't have to park on surrounding streets and you could potentially avoid road closures and reduce the operating costs."

"Given its location and size there is also some capacity for development, whether it is retail or residential and that would assist with reducing the debt."

Domm says he respects Auckland Cricket's historical rights but is hopeful of further progress.

"This is a bigger issue than just Auckland Cricket," explains Domm. "It's about the future of Eden Park and its liability and it's about the growth of sport generally. Auckland Cricket needs to grow and you should have an annual test match in Auckland - that hasn't been the case for many years until recently.

"We are just saying to Auckland Cricket, keep the door open, keep talking to us and let's have a focus on the big picture. They have a very good arrangement at Eden Park and there will be elements there that say 'we're fine, let's just leave it as it is' but looking to the future, there needs to be change."

Change may also come for Speedway NZ. They have been offered a three-year extension on their current lease at Western Springs, which expires in June 2014. While the speedway fraternity views any departure from Western Springs, where they have been based for over 80 years, as unpalatable, Domm can see some positives.

Currently, Speedway NZ have to operate under severe restrictions at Western Springs, due to objections from local residents. Their resource consent is limited to 12 events each season, which must finish by 10.30pm and can only run for a maximum of four hours.

"Three years buys all the parties some breathing space and it is intentionally shorter [than the previous contract] for that very reason. Ultimately we would like speedway to relocate because of the conflicts that are caused with the surrounding residents and the legal restrictions on speedway's operation."

"If they were to relocate to Mt Smart it would be a whole different regulatory environment for them and would enable them to grow the sport."

The RFA strategy, first unveiled in May 2012, will go to public consultation early next year.

- by Michael Burgess of the Herald on Sunday

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