The ball may be up in the air when it comes to a new stadium for Canberra but at least it is still in play.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr would be perfectly within his rights to kick it into touch and blow full-time on the current debate, having much bigger issues for his government to deal with.
The reaction from the Raiders and Brumbies to news in the Government’s Infrastructure Plan that Exhibition Park had emerged as a potential stadium site instead of Civic, and that a stadium would have to wait its turn in the infrastructure queue, was predictable.
Both codes want a 25,000 seat stadium in the city, in a central location close to restaurants and bars (as is the trend elsewhere), They say EPIC would be just as hard to get to as Bruce.
This is understandable, but their preferred site – Civic Pool – is simply too small and problematic and no other suitable sites are available unless, of course, you take the cheeky position that there is already a rectangular football field in the city – in Braddon. But the Raiders aren’t about to co-locate their Centre of Excellence at Northbourne Oval with a stadium.
Perhaps it’s also a reflection of Canberra’s relatively compact geography that EPIC is being rejected as being ‘out of the way’ when it is only 6 km from Civic and 13 minutes by light rail.
It would be remiss of the Government not to consider EPIC, especially as it has ruled out residential redevelopment there and committed to transforming it into the city’s major event precinct.
With 77 hectares of open space, why wouldn’t you take a look?
The other issue is the sheer cost of a new stadium. The Plan says it could be anywhere between $250-500 million and will no doubt need a private sector partner or Commonwealth support to see it built.
With hospital expansion, ensuring Canberra’s transport network keeps up with the city’s growth, and keeping roofs over people’s heads on the government’s dance card, it is hard for a new stadium to compete.
Mr Barr has acknowledged that by the mid-2020s Canberra will need a new stadium, but for now Bruce “may not be the best in the country but it’s not the worst”.
As it is, the Plan has up to $50 million earmarked to keep it running until the window opens for another option.
Mr Barr rightly has put a new Canberra Theatre, built when the city was home to just 80,000 people, ahead of a new stadium.
While a stadium is vulnerable to the vagaries of sporting seasons – we love winners but tend not to turn up when the wooden spoon is in the offing – the theatre is an all-year crowd puller that not only serves Canberra but draws regular busloads from throughout the region.
A stadium may be suitable for big-name concerts, which do not have a great track record in Canberra, but the theatre caters for a range of performances and productions.
It really is an economic generator in the city’s heart but is tired and in desperate need of redevelopment as part of a new cultural precinct and the general renewal of Civic from Braddon to Acton.
Mr Barr, perhaps fishing, says the only way the stadium project could be fast-tracked would be if an investor with long pockets put their hands up, and maybe that’s something the clubs and sporting bodies could help with.
But there still remains the issue of where to put it.
Complicating the picture is the fact that the ACT Government rents Canberra Stadium from the Commonwealth, which may decide to sell or redevelop that site.
The fans would all like somewhere more convenient, sheltered, and, in the winter, warmer to watch their favourite teams go round but it is a matter of choices on a limited budget, and believe it or not, not everyone is sports-mad.
The Raiders and Brumbies, which operate with significant Government and taxpayer support, need to accept economic reality, bide their time and work with the Government for the best possible outcome.