Gavel / Stadium dream falters at another hurdle

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IF the proposed indoor sports stadium in Civic is built within my commentating lifetime, I will be immensely surprised.

Tim Gavel
Tim Gavel.

Originally the timeline was set at around 2020 with the indoor facility to replace the ageing Canberra Stadium. That was before a number of financial hurdles such as the ACT government’s funding of the Mr Fluffy program impacted on the ability to raise enough funds to build the facility within that time frame.

Most in the community appeared to accept that reasoning with a general desire to ensure the asbestos issue was resolved before an indoor stadium was even contemplated.

Fair enough, but in the past fortnight another barrier has appeared in the form of the financial viability of the stadium.

Originally the plan for the indoor facility was to have the Brumbies and the Raiders play home games at the ground with businesses located within the stadium and operating all year round, not just on match days.

The stadium would also host concerts and be a venue for other sports on an ad hoc basis. In the wake of the uncertainty over the Brumbies’ future, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has suggested the stadium needed three tenants to make it financially viable, which means we’d need an “A” League team to make it worthwhile.

Putting aside the speculation surrounding the Brumbies, the prospect of Canberra securing an “A” League licence in the foreseeable future appears remote.

Does this new development place the whole proposal at risk, even if the Brumbies remain part of Super Rugby?

It would appear so.

Originally it was thought the government needed to attract offshore funding to get the proposal off the ground, but little has been revealed on that front. The cost is around $300 million, but that estimate will blow out the longer the project is delayed.

The main comparison with the proposed Canberra Indoor Stadium is the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Completed in 2011 at a cost of around $NZ224 million in time for the Rugby World Cup, the stadium has a capacity of 30,000 for sporting events and 36,000 for concerts.

It has two tenants, the Highlanders Super Rugby side playing up to 10 games a season, if they make the finals, and the Southern United Football team, which plays in the NZ Championship. The stadium has also hosted the occasional rugby league game and a rodeo.

If the Brumbies remain in the competition they could also play up to nine games this season if they make the finals, the Raiders play 12 home games at Canberra Stadium this season with the possibility of another game if they make the finals. There will also be a Rugby Union test later this year and the Rugby League test as well as three games in the Rugby League World Cup, two “A” League soccer games and one “W” League semi-final.

That brings the potential number of major sporting events at Canberra Stadium this year to 29, if you count the “A” League game between Adelaide United and the Central Coast Mariners and the “W” League semi-final as one event. Add Keith Urban to the mix and there is plenty of activity at the stadium.

There appears to be enough sporting content to make the new indoor stadium viable from a sporting event point of view. What is needed to make it financially viable, I would have thought, is the ability to attract major concerts and events, such as trade fairs, to the stadium as well as having businesses use the facility 365 days of the year.

Businesses associated with sport would be a natural fit, as would bars and restaurants. The stadium would also have the ability to generate life into that area of Civic.

Another way of adding to the viability would be to entice Canberra United to play “W” League home games at the stadium.

With uncertainty over the AIS Arena, the indoor stadium could fill that potential void with concerts, gala balls and one-off sporting events.

I concede the last thing Canberra needs is a white-elephant sports stadium, but if the Brumbies survive, there’s no reason for the proposed stadium not to go ahead.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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