The case for a sports stadium

A new sports stadium would eliminate the need for temporary grandstands at Tauranga Domain. Photo: Chris James.

If you’ve travelled along Cameron Road in the centre of Tauranga recently you may have noticed a monument to the chronic municipal inertia we face in this city.

A large temporary scaffolding grandstand structure has been erected in the Tauranga Domain to cater for the Bay of Plenty Steamers home rugby games.

Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers says while it is an investment in the right space, it comes at an onerous cost.

“It’s a significant investment that we make,” Mike says. “We certainly don’t make money off these games – we lose money off holding games at Tauranga Domain – but we know we have to play our part in hopefully demonstrating that people want good sporting events in the city. So that’s why we do it.

“It is a massive logistical challenge but we know it’s the right thing to do and hopefully we demonstrate that with some fantastic games, great crowds, and feedback from businesses on The Strand that there are benefits for them.”

All this has become necessary since it became obvious ASB Baypark Stadium wasn’t the answer, Mike says.

“The evidence is pretty clear. You have a game at Tauranga Domain and we’re attracting 5000-odd people, and then you go to Baypark where we were attracting 1000 people. So I think in terms of the facility our community spoke.”

Three years ago the Civic Amenities Group, a collective of successful Tauranga business people lead by property developer Paul Adams, attempted to get some action happening on a range of city assets, including a stadium.

Their plans used innovative funding arrangements which would avoid dumping additional debt on ratepayers. It soon became apparent to them, however, that the Tauranga City Council wasn’t prepared to listen to their proposals.

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless says that wouldn’t be the case now, though.

“Oh no, we would definitely listen, no problem. But we haven’t had any formal approach. Since I’ve been here I’ve not been asked about it at all.”

Greg says council certainly isn’t driving anything forward on it.

“But if somebody can look at funding this, at making sure it actually works and doesn’t turn out to be a millstone, then that’s fine.

“I’m always open to ideas, especially from people who put their own money up. I’m just very cautious because of the financial implications.”

City councillor Max Mason is in no doubt where the fault lies for the lack of amenities in Tauranga, of which a stadium is a prime example. Years of chronic underfunding is the culprit, he says, and it’s all caught up with us.

“And I think that’s a shame. We’ve got so much going for us, with the natural beauty and the really good attitude among the people. There’s a real buzz about Tauranga and there’s a lot of optimism, and yet we can’t seem to get our act together in terms of providing what you might call the social infrastructure.

“That’s the balance. While a lot of people just want the horizontal infrastructure – the roads and the pipes and all the rest of it – I think building community is more than just traffic and pipes, it’s about people.”

Max says while it’s not council’s job to throw unlimited ratepayer funds at infrastructural projects, it is council’s role to get things moving.

“We’re not there to make friends, we’re there to make a difference.”

Max agrees with Greg that buy-in across various sectors of the community will be necessary to get it off the ground.

“We don’t have anything in the long-term plan for a stadium. Anything that does happen in that space has got to be a partnership between private sector, community trusts, and council entities, and indeed the regional council as well.”

Max and Greg both feel the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, with its hugely valuable shareholding in the Port of Tauranga, would be an obvious source of cash.

“If there’s going to be a stadium it has to be a regional stadium,” says Greg, “so that could be a potential source of funds. As Tauranga is the home of the port, it would be good to give something back to the people here.”