Sky’s Tony Johnson believes it is time for Christchurch and Auckland to build state of the art facilities.
TONY JOHNSON IS A COMMENTATOR AND PRESENTER FOR SKY TV’S RUGBY COVERAGE IN NEW ZEALAND.
ONE HAS DEFINITELY been through the worst of times. The other might not be going through the best of times, but it does have something the other must regard with great envy.
Before my misappropriation of Shakespeare gets me into trouble, I’ll get to the point.
Dunedin has an awesome stadium. It has a brilliantly designed roof, and a fantastic surface that is far harder to create under cover than you might think.
It has also hosted many other events including rock concerts of the magnitude I could only dream of when I lived in Dunners in the early 80s.
Since Forsyth Barr went up they’ve had Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran and Robbie Williams.
It’s a complete reverse of what used to happen. Back then people would pour out of Dunedin heading for Christchurch for a big concert or sports event.
Nowadays they head south in their droves because Christchurch misses out on the big concerts, and they don’t get rugby tests any more.
When people in Dunedin go to the footy they are kept dry and entertained. In Christchurch they get hailed on. More and more, they watch in the pub.
Let’s always remember, Christchurch has been through a catastrophe, and is still recovering.
Life has not returned to the old normal for many, the regeneration having been held back by all manner of impediments, including but not limited to: damage to the infrastructure that was far worse than anyone might have dared dread, inadequate insurance cover, problems getting the money out of [some] insurance agencies, a lack of good people in key roles, not enough workers, and bumbling and prevaricating leadership.
Sport, and apparently rugby in particular, had to take its place in the queue.
AMI Stadium was a remarkable temporary fix, bolted together like Meccano in amazingly quick time to give the footy folk of Christchurch somewhere they could watch their beloved teams.
But it is nearly two years past its designated use by date, is grubby and frayed, nowhere near adequate for test rugby and no place to be on a cold wet night.
For seven years many of us have respectfully stayed out of the argument, because we haven’t suffered what the people of Christchurch have suffered.
But surely it is obvious now, given what has been happening in Dunedin, that a modern, covered stadium to host sports events and concerts can actually help drive the regeneration.
Build it, and they will come. And if you haven’t seen the movie, just look South. It’s true.
Of course people will balk at the cost. They did in Dunedin, some fighting it tooth and nail. Because of that, short cuts were made by spooked constructors towards the end of the project to save money, more’s the pity.
But it has given people a reason to visit Dunedin that did not exist beforehand, and the city is profiting from it.
The cost is always going to fuel opposition, although it has to be assumed that some of those fighting a new stadium simply hate rugby, if not sport in general, and some of them just hate everything.
But they are the squeaky wheel that too often in this country gets the oil.
Besides, it doesn’t have to be a burden. Get the right people in to market the place, line up the events, bag a big name sponsor.
And if you really want to block the drain on the public purse, build a six story parking building at one end, a fitness centre, even a hotel at the other like they did at Twickenham, and develop a hospitality/entertainment hub around it, so it’s making money every day.
People who say the Rugby Union should pay for it need to rejoin us in the real world.
The Rugby Union will be a key tenant, and pay a lot of money to use it, and that is all they can be expected to do. Name a sporting organisation in New Zealand that owns their own stadium? Does anyone expect the symphony orchestra to pay for the auditorium? Do the publishers pay for the library?
The decision to stage this year’s Argentina test in Nelson was as big a slap to Christchurch from New Zealand Rugby as you could ever imagine.
Perhaps it might be the final shove needed to get this ball belatedly rolling. There is a third city in this tale, of course. Auckland had the chance for a new stadium in 2011, and it wasn’t so much a case of a ship sailing, but the second sinking of the Titanic.
Principal blame lay with the bicycle clip brigade at the Auckland Regional Council who didn’t want to give up Mount Smart Stadium to pay for a state of the art arena in a far more dynamic location, but full ‘credit’ should also be given for the old school tie who rallied behind the scenes to win a massive government handout to ‘upgrade’ Eden Park instead.
A piecemeal upgrade that, because of the structural compromises forced by the neighbours, now means more people get wet than ever before, and the place is even harder to get in and out of.
But the new stadium idea has risen from the deep again, and Mayor Phil Goff seems genuinely invested in making it happen.
Goff’s vision seems to be something along the lines of the fantastic BC Place Stadium in Vancouver which, with the lowering and raising of simple screens, can be either a compact and atmospheric 25,000 seater, or a raging 50,000 amphitheatre.
It’s a great idea, and you’d love to think it could happen, although no doubt the usual suspects will try to block it.
The day the story of the new Auckland proposal, right in the heart of the city, broke in the New Zealand Herald, we took our daughter to Hobbiton near Matamata for her birthday.
Hobbiton is drawing around 650,000 visitors a year. It employs dozens of people and injects millions a year into the local economy. And that’s just one of many locations that continue to thrive 20 years after filming started on the Lord of the
Rings trilogy, None of this would have happened, hundreds of thousands of tourists would never have been to this country and goodness knows how many jobs would not have been created had the naysayers won their battle to stop the tax concessions that brought the movie makers here in the first place.
Peter Jackson won that fight and New Zealand is massively better off for it.
It would be nice to think that for once our city leaders might stop caving into vocal minorities and we can continue what Dunedin started and catch up on the rest of the developed world with sports stadia that will actually enhance the experience of attending, rather than make them head for a bar and a big screen.
REASON TO BE Dunedin has been rejuvenated by the new stadium.