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What we need in Christchurch is a suite of fantastic, complementary new facilities that bring people, events and prosperity into all corners of the city and the region – facilities that are based on more than just pretty pictures

Business case first, pretty pictures second –
By Paul Haggath

There is a term used in the construction industry that makes me laugh and cry in equal measure – ‘value engineering’.

This is when we design something that we can’t afford, eventually carve big chunks out of it to get back to an acceptable budget, and then try to manage the disappointment of stakeholders who saw and bought into the original concept. Images of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, particularly the covered stadium and the convention centre, are prime examples.

Now, Christchurch is planning to spend a combined 
$800 million on the planned Metro Sports Facility and multi-use arena. This is on top of the newly commenced $475 million convention centre and $135 million already spent to reconstruct the town hall.

As a city, we are unlikely to ever recover that kind of capital cost. That’s not to say we shouldn’t build them. Quite the contrary – a well thought-out venue strategy is an asset to any city’s economy. But these venues need to wash their own face and make commercial sense.

Artistic imagery

‘Build it and they will come’ seems often to be the philosophy, but history shows every time that no, they won’t. Decisions need to be made based on sound and realistic expectations, and many such venues around the world have failed to meet their minimum financial requirements. As a rule of thumb, my advice to clients is always to take the very worst case, and then work out if it still works at 60% of that.

The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan was based on great logic. It reflected the best of what we wanted for a bigger, bolder Christchurch. Some impressive artistic imagery was produced and billboarded, illustrating what the Metro, the convention centre and the stadium would look like. But stubborn inflexibility to change and develop these ideas has stymied the projects ever since.

After many years of irritable financial grumbling between the government and the Christchurch City Council, last year the council, government and newly formed Stadium Trust commissioned a prefeasibility study to evaluate what a new arena should look like. At the end of August, the study was published.

While the report recognised the importance of making the venue multi-use, it fixated on a handful of sporadic events and then made the assertion that without a roof and a retractable pitch, the stadium will make a loss.

Emotive text

The study does little to justify its conclusions. Where I expected to see a carefully considered evaluation of economic viability and needs, I found a lot of emotive text and imagery and no real analysis of any substance.

The authors clearly believe that the city decided long ago it wants a stadium with a roof, so the report sets out to confirm this as a requirement. Why? So we can attract more concerts. Recently, Adele made headlines for completing her open-air concert in Auckland in the pouring rain. Did her fans leave the arena? No, they donned rain ponchos and clapped all the louder.

At the end of the day, a well-designed stadium bowl keeps spectators dry, the weather and wind out, and allows the pitch to thrive. Don’t get me wrong; a roof is nice to have on a stadium, but that is all it is. There are many ways to skin a cat, using lightweight roofs and retractable, concertina, rotating interlocking structures. But the inclusion of a roof should not be a non-negotiable requirement.

Further, the report cites as an absolute necessity the need for a retractable pitch. This is flavour of the month and a very expensive way to create a covered arena space. It is time to think smarter and open our eyes to the bigger picture. We aren’t building public artworks. These are functional, pragmatic resources for the city and its visitors to use and which, above all, should pay their own way.

Making the business case

Last year the new Regeneration Minister Megan Woods made the prudent decision to pull the pin on the current iteration of the Metro Sports Facility, as the long-held fears of budget overruns and ratepayer burden loomed. She has pledged to relook at all the anchor projects and to find a way to make them happen.

Likewise, it’s time to take a very close look at the business case for how these facilities will be integrated into our new city. A combination of well-considered facilities could create more significant and lasting benefits for our community, reducing construction costs and maximising the potential for additional revenues.

So what do we actually require? We need a decent-sized convention centre with clear links to our other venues. We need an indoor space that can seat and stand 12,000 spectators to match the capacity of the Spark Arena in Auckland. We need a stadium arena that can be adapted for larger events and a floor space that is appropriate for hosting a variety of functions, including concerts.

True community integration

True community multi-use means a facility that the community will use 24/7 – incorporating facilities such as meeting spaces, community programmes, fitness, wellness, education, a sports clinic, gymnasium, exercise, sports science and commercially lettable spaces as well as complementary sports facilities, such as are planned for incorporation into the Metro Sports Facility.

All have been incorporated in similar facilities elsewhere in the world and all bring an added dimension and true community integration. There are also myriad options and opportunities for commercial adjuncts and integrated associated and relevant commercial businesses, which have not been adequately explored.

I am all for civic pride and believing in ourselves, but there are better, smarter solutions to achieving what we need in Christchurch: a suite of fantastic, complementary new facilities that bring people, events and prosperity into all corners of the city and the region – facilities that are based on more than just pretty pictures.

Paul Haggath, managing director of TEAM Projects Advisory, is a specialist project and procurement advisor, and has worked in the UK, Hong Kong and New Zealand, successfully developing feasibility and business case studies for the investment of public money into sports and leisure facilities while minimising financial risk.

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