31 August 2022

Barr pours more cold water on dreams of a 'very challenging' city stadium

| Lottie Twyford
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Canberra Stadium

Fans have long called for a new city stadium, but the government appears to be pouring cold water on those hopes. Photo: File.

Don’t hold your breath for a brand-spanking-new city stadium, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr explaining the project was becoming increasingly challenging the more it was looked at.

Mr Barr has long signalled a new stadium was far from the top of the government’s infrastructure priority list, with the City Cultural Precinct, including a new Canberra Theatre Centre and a new convention centre, in the lead.

The Chief Minister questioned in budget estimates this week whether a stadium was the best use of city land given it was used so infrequently.

“One of the strengths of the theatre is it’s used over hundreds of nights of the year,” Mr Barr said on Tuesday (30 August).

“One of the weaknesses of a stadium in the context of only two current football users is that it would only be used 20 to 30 times a year. There’s no other content.

“You end up with a dead space for 340 days of the year.”

He said this complicated the central argument for the stadium – that it should be in the city for the economic benefits it would bring to surrounding businesses.

Andrew Barr on Budget day

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has signalled the city stadium is a “very challenging” project. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Mr Barr was questioned on Wednesday (31 August) about whether he’d considered the possibility of the stadium being used for major live music acts as well as sports.

He said that had been considered, but opportunities were limited and there was not much promoter interest in Canberra. Furthermore, Mr Barr said major stadium tours were quickly becoming a thing of the past as the live music scene shifted to smaller venues.

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Mr Barr first floated the civic stadium proposal as sports minister in 2009.

This week, the Chief Minister conceded the Civic pool site was extremely complicated but would not entirely rule it out.

“There are plenty of people who rightly have a view that [because building a city stadium] has been done in other cities, therefore it should be done in Canberra,” he told the hearing.

“I accepted that and have explored it extensively, but I’ve reluctantly reached the conclusion that it is very, very challenging on the Civic pool site without undertaking additional expenditure to make the block big enough.

“I’ve got to make a judgement call ultimately about this. So while I have attempted to make this work, and have sought to do this, I concede it is much more challenging – when you get into the detail – than at first glance.”

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A 2020 feasibility study, which found the city stadium was preferable over one at EPIC, found it could seat 25,000 if Parkes Way was moved up by 12 metres and some changes to the design were made.

Mr Barr said the design of the stadium would have to be very tight and steep to fit all of those people, and some of the surrounding roads would need to be closed.

The Chief Minister said challenges continued to arise the further along the details phase the project travelled and it was going to be a case of a good outcome, not a perfect one.

Questions around how much the city stadium would cost linger. The 2020 study said it could cost up to $700 million.

But Mr Barr came under fire for a throwaway comment made before the Budget suggesting the stadium could cost $1 billion. He later said that figure was to illustrate a “rhetorical point” and set realistic expectations for the community.

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Mr Barr said the focus was now on the potential redevelopment of Canberra Stadium and the AIS precinct.

The AIS idea depends on the ACT Government brokering a deal with the Australian Sports Commission, which owns the land at Bruce.

Mr Barr said conversations were ongoing but he believed there were opportunities for a “more refreshed and compact AIS”.

A smaller AIS – and a reopened arena – would mean the remaining “underutilised” land could be used for Commonwealth housing initiatives or ACT Build to Rent projects.

“I think the campus is big enough to also sustain hotel accommodation, restaurants, bars and cafes,” he said.

“We could produce quite an exciting new sports, recreation and sports medicine precinct that would also provide some well-located land for additional housing. It could be that a number of problems are resolved in a comprehensive package.”

Ricky Stuart

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart called the Bruce stadium an “embarrassment”. Photo: File.

Fans have long called for a new stadium in the city and Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has gone on the record in support of this, describing the Bruce facility as an “embarrassment”.

The city stadium became a hot topic during the recent Federal election when now-independent Senator David Pocock said he would use his position on the crossbench to lobby the Federal government to jointly fund a new shared Stadium and Convention Centre Precinct on the Civic site.

He said at the time the Federal government should take the lead in that project.

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Don’t need it. Bruce is big enough. Manuka is big enough.

So every other major city in Australia is wrong, and Barr knows more than all of them.
You heard it here first.
Sports last, art first; straight out of the greens playbook.

Barr is not trying hard enough here. Complaining about difficulties is a bit rich when that wasn’t an issue for the light rail, which has just gone ahead regardless of the massive challenges of getting it through the city and across the lake.

The current stadium is an embarrassment for Canberra. A new one would certainly attract more events than just our two football teams. With soccer games plus music, claiming it would be used for 20 days a year is rubbish.

Our city needs some energy and spirit to take it forward. Barr and the opposition just aren’t providing it.

All the great cities of the world have their stadiums in the city. It has saved and revitalised many dying city centres around the world.
Enough said really, and sad for Canberra.
This is about much more than sporting games, it would bring concerts, business and dollars for much suffering local businesses. New life to a very sad and tired, boring city centre.
Bruce is a joke, and no amount of money will see it as a great precinct.
Unfortunately Barr and Co (Greens) only care about building unit blocks on every spare space and massively increasing population. I wonder how many investment properties various Canberra ‘Town’ council members have secured on their tram line money spinner now.
The Raiders, Brumbies and any other sporting teams should look to relocating to other locations. Canberra does not deserve events of note. Central coast? Maybe Barr will pay them handsomely to play a handful of games here as a visiting team each year.

What great cities of the world have their stadiums in the city?

Capital Retro4:26 pm 01 Sep 22

Parramatta is a great city with a great NRL team and their new stadium is a ripper.

Whilst there are reasonable arguments to say that a stadium isn’t worth the cost, the same arguments apply to many other projects that the government has deemed priorities.

Barr is simply backing away from previous statements because his government is wasting far too much money elsewhere and the finances are looking grim.

There are many things more urgently needed in Canberra that will provide greater benefit to all living here. The city needs to be improved in amenity for all Canberrans rather than taken over by a mostly empty sports ground.

The pool is well used and could be further developed for those needing aquatherapies as well as all the other swimmers, with the location accessible to all here. Those facilities that are less used should logically be further out of town, but with good public transport links.

Willing to spend money to entice the people he wants to Canberra, but doesn’t want us to spend our money on entertainment for us.

Barr doesn’t like NRL or League only AFL and is willing to piss away 10s of millions of dollars for a few games.

Surely people are sick of this elected dictator?

Stadium? Probably need to wait until after the LR network has been completed.

Good, because unless the Raiders and Brumbies can confirm that they will be able to justify it through increased supporters through the turnstiles, then it shouldn’t happen. We don’t have an A-League team (and probably never will in the short-term), and do we think that suddenly major O/S rock and pop groups will start coming to Canberra to play there, given they did ignore the AIS for most the part up until now.

Unless it will be oval shaped, its limited in its use for major sports.

Well said!!!! There are many things more urgently needed in Canberra that will provide greater benefit to all living here. The city needs to be improved in amenity for all Canberrans rather than taken over by a mostly empty sports ground.

The pool is well used and could be further developed for those needing aquatherapies as well as all the other swimmers, with the location accessible to all here. Those facilities that are less used should logically be further out of town, but with good public transport links.

Capital Retro1:38 pm 31 Aug 22

I did hear a very tired sounding Andrew Barr on ABC 666 this morning suggesting (like Senator Pocock) that a convention centre would be a better proposal.

They are both deluded as convention/exhibition centres are now global sunset industries.

Pocock was all for a stadium prior to the election?

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