The group behind a proposed privately-funded Auckland waterfront stadium has revealed itself – and its plans for a $1.8 billion, 50,000 seat, covered arena funded by giving a likely international developer rights to build thousands of homes on land at Bledisloe Wharf and Eden Park.

The Auckland Waterfront Consortium has released spectacular images of a stadium sunken into the reclaimed land at the wharf and adjoining new housing and offices in a ‘precinct’ being called Bledisloe Quarter. Newsroom revealed the existence of the new plan and its connection to Eden Park last week.

It is not without its challenges – requiring as it does the shutting of the port’s big car importing function at downtown, the transfer of 14 hectares of wharf land the group has valued at $115 million and Eden Park’s 10 hectares (put at $250 million) to a developer under a long lease, support from the public and politicians and agreements from iwi on use of seabed space.

Auckland has had a long and fractious political debate about uses for the waterfront and stadium proposals.

However this plan is innovative in that it attempts to use ‘value uplifts’ for public property to entice a private developer to cover the cost of the stadium, sparing taxpayers and ratepayers from a large infrastructure cost when so much else needs funding.

Consortium chairman Dave Wigmore told Newsroom: “This is probably larger than anything we’ve seen in New Zealand” and predicted it would likely require a substantial international company with a strong balance sheet working with local partners to pull it off.

Under this stadium plan Auckland’s major football codes would shift operations to the new rectangular stadium, with major music concerts and public events, but cricket going as mooted already to Western Springs.

In one scenario outlined by the group the Eden Park Trust Board would ‘hand over the keys to its land and pick up the keys to a new national stadium’ in a decade and take over the running of the new facility, which would be in public ownership.

The Auckland Waterfront Consortium has released images of the proposed stadium. 

Members of the consortium are mainly individuals from professional firms like lawyers, valuers, property specialists, architects and engineers who hope the new stadium can be built within 10 years, in time for any bid by the city to host the Commonwealth Games in 2030 or another Rugby World Cup in 2031.

They hope to convince the Auckland Council, which owns the Ports of Auckland company upon whose land the new stadium would stand, to agree to move the working wharf at Bledisloe to the other side of Auckland to the Port of Onehunga for imports of cars and other freight. They claim car transporter ships could dock at a redeveloped port there, despite the port company having transferred the land to Panuku Auckland, the council’s development arm.

The Auckland port’s container operations would be preserved but two smaller wharves would be demolished to allow space for a ‘basin’ beside the new stadium into which ferry services could later be moved.

The consortium would also need the Government and Council to agree to change the legislation which covers Eden Park and, if politicians would consider enabling legislation for the stadium to shorten existing planning obligations, the business group believes the stadium could be ready as soon as eight years from now.

If Eden Park, which the group says is “nearing the end of its life” and no longer “fit for purpose” needed any short-term investment to keep it functioning over the decade that could be incorporated into the business plan for this stadium.

The $1.8 billion stadium structure, with its stands and field sunken into the reclaimed land, would give the effect at ground level of being see-through to the harbour from, say, Quay St, with only supports for the roof showing. All costs for its construction and supporting public services would be borne by the developer, who would be selected by international tender.

Those who have put together the proposal over the past 18 months say they would not benefit financially other than the possibility of professional fees working on the project if it was to go ahead. They have met all costs so far of developing the concept.

The consortium members include Wigmore and a corporate partner at law firm Simpson Grierson, Mike Sage, with representatives from: 

ENGEO Limited – Engineering; 

Jones Lang Lasalle – Real estate feasibility and business case;

Ernst & Young – Economic impact and business case;

Peddle Thorp – NZ-based architecture, master planning. (Peddle Thorp have entered into a subcontract arrangement with HOK, international stadium architects based in the USA.);

Planning Focus – Resource management;

Phil O’Reilly Design Limited – Initial concept and creative consultant;

Rider Levett Bucknall Limited – Construction costs and project planning;

The Property Strategists – Real estate feasibility; amd

Buildmedia – architectural 3D visualisation imagery.

Photo: The Auckland Waterfront Consortium 

One obvious question arising from the proposed sunken stadium would be the risk from sea level rise. Anticipating that risk and public concern over sitting beneath sea-level while watching football or listening to a concert, the consortium claims its plan “integrates accepted seismic design principles as well as recommendations from the Ministry for the Environment on rising sea levels, GNS Tsunami modelling and Auckland Council inundation and Civil Defence studies” and ” incorporates appropriate measures to mitigate against all reasonable natural events”.

Information provided by the consortium refers to 2009 Ministry for the Environment sea-level guidelines envisaging a possible 0.5 m rise in waters, and says this project would “at the very least” work to a possible 0.8 m sea-level rise – but there is widespread debate whether a 1.0 metre rise or more ought to be in planning policies nationally.

The group says it has tried to meet all major public concerns with a possible stadium and its plan “does not extend into the harbour beyond the northern tip of Bledisloe Wharf”.

Its vision would see the new housing and businesses on Bledisloe Quarter “book-end” the central city waterfront with the Wynyard Quarter developments at the other end. The Wynyard model of apartment living, offices, hotels and public spaces, built on long leases from the public has inspired the consortium’s thinking.

The Eden Park end of the deal would see the historic stadium land cleared completely for new housing. The grandstands would be demolished. 

Consortium member Mike Sage said the new stadium would be in high demand for matches and events. Research the group had conducted showed it needed to be a multi-use arena rather than a football stadium and it was confident “the only problem will be fitting it all in”.

A study to verify the assumptions made so far, and to consult with stakeholders like the port company, council, Crown, iwi and interested city and public groups could now take a year to 18 months. Newsroom understands the consortium is seeking council and Government funding for the study but Wigmore would only say it envisaged, support possibly from “Auckland, Crown or philanthropic” sources to get the work done.

It hopes to meet the Finance Minister Grant Robertson (who is also Minister of Sport) soon to outline its plans.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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