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.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents -

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.

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