Sports facilities: Hope over stadium's future

Ian Tulloch.
Ian Tulloch.
The chairman of the trust which runs Invercargill's debt-laden Rugby Park stadium hopes a solution to its ownership and management problems has been found.

But Mataura businessman Ian Tulloch said he would not give details until those who agreed to the solution at a private meeting on Monday night had ratification from their various organisations.

''I've always believed there was a good solution ... and a good future for the stadium. But if the agreement is not ratified it will be back to the drawing board.''

The outcome is expected within a month.

The Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust owes $1.5 million it cannot pay.

It owes $750,000 to the Community Trust of Southland, $600,000 in management fees to cornerstone tenant Rugby Southland, and $150,000 to Pacific Dawn Ltd, the company which bought part of the loan book of failed South Canterbury Finance.

Monday night's meeting was attended by representatives of the stadium trust, Rugby Southland, the Invercargill City Council, the community trust and the Invercargill Licensing Trust.

The groups have referred all questions to Tulloch.

Tulloch said the stadium trust was formed 12 years ago, when Rugby Park was substantially upgraded at a cost of $7.5 million.

But he said its financial difficulties began in 2007 when it agreed to take on a $750,000 debt owed by Rugby Southland, which was in serious financial trouble at that time.

''That debt is nothing to do with us, really. But we agreed to channel it through our books as a rugby bail-out - to ensure there was still a Southland Stags team to play at the stadium and that we still had a cornerstone tenant.''

Since then, the trust had been hit by higher-than expected stadium maintenance costs and reduced income, particularly since the Highlanders stopped playing games in Invercargill, he said.

Tulloch would not be drawn on speculation the Invercargill City Council might take over ownership of the stadium.

However, he said the facility should be considered a community asset.

''Until now, we have done this on our own [financially]. We have never had any annual grants from the city council or the community trust. In the past couple of years we have applied but been declined, which, frankly, I find staggering.

''The stadium will never make money, but it brings a lot of people to the city and gives us television coverage for ITM Cup games. The benefits of that exposure are hard to measure.''

Some have suggested the stadium be sold to an outside party. Tulloch said while that was a possibility, he did not believe it was practical or reasonable.

''The stadium has been paid for by the people of Southland. Ownership should stay with them.''

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