11 December 2022

New city stadium pitch has good ideas but appears fatally flawed

| Ian Bushnell
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Artist's impression of the surrounds of new city stadium. Photo: GHDWoodhead.

An artist’s impression of the city stadium precinct from a previous study. Photo: GHDWoodhead.

If asked, most people would say yes to a new stadium in the city to watch top-level football and attend concerts for the big stars that currently bypass the national capital.

Bruce is out of the way, the current stadium is ageing, and in the middle of a Canberra winter, it is hard to compete with the comfort and warmth of home or a club or pub.

A state-of-the-art enclosed facility would be fantastic.

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If the idea is so popular, why not just build it?

If it were that easy, Andrew Barr, who floated the possibility in another life as Sports Minister, would have done it by now.

He finally attempted to kill the idea last month, citing the cost – for him, it’s a cool billion, although the proponents say $495 million to $736 million – and the difficulty of fitting a facility on the proposed site, the Civic pool.

But the campaign goes on, and a new proposal from the city’s sporting, business and entertainment interests for a 30,000-seat stadium aims to overcome those barriers.

The gist of it is if the Commonwealth can give back to the territory a stack of AIS land, that can be used to pay for not just a stadium but a new uncosted convention centre as well.

The proposal’s stadium consultants have come up with an interesting inverted-bowl design that will fit on the pool site without affecting Parkes Way and are confident there are engineering solutions to any other problems.

The proposal – or Blueprint for Action, as the backers say – is supposed to be an elegant solution where governments’ bottom lines aren’t impacted.

Canberra Stadium

Canberra Stadium: out of the way, chilly and ageing. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

It has strong backing from big sport, including the national bodies, business, tourism and event sectors, and the convention industry.

Two former MPs – Mike Kelly and Warren Snowden – have been recruited to spruik it, issuing a formal statement last week.

A website and a petition has also been launched.

Part of the sell is that such a precinct would have a big economic payoff for the city and support the role of the National Capital.

All true, if one could ensure both the convention centre and, more importantly, the stadium was in regular use.

But then the big if is whether the Commonwealth will cede the AIS land at all when the Australian Sports Commission led by Olympian Kieren Perkins wants to revitalise the Bruce precinct, obviously with an eye to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

Will Anthony Albanese reverse the decision to fix the AIS Arena, sacrifice Perkins’ aspirations and risk Olympic failure by providing the windfall to the ACT necessary to make this proposal happen?

Perhaps, if Senator David Pocock, who went to the election calling for a joint convention centre and the stadium project, has the Federal Government over a barrel and is willing to horsetrade, something he has so far been unwilling to do.

At this point, the PM and the Senator play on the higher ground of national interest.

If the land were to become available, a Public Private Partnership is proposed as the development vehicle for it and the stadium and convention centre project it would service.

But there is no detail about how that would work. PPPs look good on the surface but can cost taxpayers dearly.

The government also has set its infrastructure priorities in the city, and the Canberra Theatre Centre redevelopment as part of new cultural precinct is the next cab off the rank, not to mention light rail if it can stay in office.

The argument for the theatre project has always been that it is a facility in constant use instead of the vagaries of sporting and big concert dates.

Canberra Theatre Centre

Canberra Theatre Centre: its redevelopmnet is a government priority. Photo: Region.

The theatre project is getting to the serious design stage and construction will hopefully get underway in 2025, after the Canberra Hospital expansion is completed and about the same time as the Woden CIT is due to open.

Does the government have the capacity to run, even as a PPP, another project of the magnitude of the stadium/convention centre at the same time?

Mr Barr has always said in recent times that a stadium would have to wait. Perhaps by then a joint ACT/Commonwealth commitment, which would be preferable, could do the job.

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He says the government will look at the latest push but has noted a range of challenges.

The ball, however, is well and truly in the Commonwealth’s court about the funding plan the proposal relies on.

And while the Canberra Liberals are opportunistic enough to back it now, they would not be so gung ho if they made it into government.

So the city stadium, as much as we might like one, is an idea whose time may not yet have come.

Now, private investors might like to throw a billion at it, but stadia are risky propositions. It would still have to make money, and clubs and punters might baulk at the cost of rent and tickets.

A last word. The proposal eyes Glebe Park or part of it for the convention centre development. Hands off! It is a green jewel in the city that should be sacrosanct.

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I still can’t believe how much coverage a pretty ordinary pitch-deck has received. Thanks for at least starting to push back against it – unlike the cheerleaders at the paper. Things nobody has touched on yet:

1. How would the proponents plan on magicking away the water table, considering they will need to go quite deep to make this concept fit.
2. Everyone has focused on the stadium component, ignoring the second half which is an attempt to land grab and plonk a convention centre in Commonwealth Park (lakefront). Is that something people are comfortable with (get out google maps and look at the size and location of the space that would be lost)
3. I’m sure the footy teams are acting in good faith on this and that they want a bright new shiny facility – but surely they have considered the cost to them (and their supporters) if a circa 3/4 billion stadium is built under a PPP and what the hiring fee would be. They currently get a sweetheart deal on rental from the ACT Government – if it is a privately owned and operated stadium then either their costs are going up/profits going down, or the government/taxpayer will be putting their hands in pockets to subsidise again.

The one generic render of the stadium looks totally rad though.

Thank goodness we have a voice of sanity and logic. The passion of supporters is noted and recognised as biasing their judgement. Whilst there are advantages of the proposal, the costs in both the short and longer term have been hidden or ignored in most discussions.

Get rid of all the public housing in civic first before thinking about building a stadium. Where are all the wealthy people that can afford tickets if everyone is living in government flats?

HiddenDragon7:17 pm 12 Dec 22

“And while the Canberra Liberals are opportunistic enough to back it now, they would not be so gung ho if they made it into government.”

…… and discovered the true state of ACT government finances?

I am all for the proposed ABB (anywhere but Bruce) stadium. Wherever it is built has to be around a hub of sorts and well located for as many as possible. Leaves only 2 options really, City or around the developing hub in Deakin, next to the Woden light rail line that should be ready around the same time as the stadium is built.

ChrisinTurner1:28 pm 12 Dec 22

Glebe Park is already down to a fraction of its original size due to the building of the Convention Centre, hotel, offices and apartments. After demolition of the ABC Flats and their hundred trees, five playgrounds and grass we only have Glebe Park for the occupants of th 1000 apartments that replaced the ABC Flats.

I’m surprised those who want to compare us to other cities when it comes to light rail don’t want to do the same for a stadium?

Washington DC is such a comparable city to us with their football stadium that accommodates over 80k spectators.

Not to mention their baseball stadium of over 40k capacity and others.

Why doesn’t our government show some vision for our growing population, any expenditure is clearly only setting us up for the future?


Don’t be an idiot, Washington D.C. has a metro population of 6.35 million people. If you’re just scaling by population we shouldn’t have a stadium with a capacity of more than 7,000.

Um, that’s the point.

I’m not sure what the point is you’re making?

Scaling for population our stadium is much bigger than theirs.

D.C. has a six line subway system which runs for like 200 km, so so scaling for population we need to investing significantly more in our light rail system to match it.

Yes that’s exactly the point.

To afford those types of projects costs many times the per capita amounts that it does for much bigger cities and in the case of light rail, it’s even worse due to the massive differences in population densities that exist.

It’s the reason why they aren’t affordable for a city like ours without either private investment or expending large amounts of constrained budgets. Budgets that should use public funds to deliver essential services as efficiently as possible.

You’ll note that the existing stadium here was built by the federal government.

The Washington Stadium we are talking about was built mostly with private funds although the state and county governments did contribute tens of millions for other supporting infrastructure to make it viable.

TrevorHickman11:37 am 12 Dec 22

No money spare to upgrade/update Bruce stadium, but a cool $30 mill available to give to an AFL Sydney franchise to play 30 games (over 10 years) in Canberra. Must make sense to someone…

Barr likes AFL surely that should be a good enough reason to spend whatever is needed.

And how good it is to see a chief minister who does like AFL! Go the Sydney Swans !!

Off all the people I speak to in coffee shops etc regarding the building of a new civic stadium – it appears about 90% are strongly against it. Reasons: Not to be build in civic and wasting tax-payers monies on something that will be empty for 6 months.

Maybe we go to different coffee shops, because I’ve never talked to anyone that is against it. All Raiders and Brumbies members I have spoken to have been clamouring for it for years.

This is a no brainer… lose light rail, recover future expenditure, and gain a stadium and convention centre…..

The stadium is another project that most people would love to see completed but which doesn’t stack up to any sort of reasonable economic assessment at present.

The government’s problem being, they haven’t applied the same fiscal conservatism to other projects so why not build a stadium? Or any other project that the public might get excited about? It’s all about the vibe and the transformational vision, so anything is a goer.

Just shows how poor and haphazard the government’s infrastructure plans and assessments are.

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