16 June 2020

A rethink could reinvigorate the push for a new stadium in Canberra

| Tim Gavel
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Don Furner

Don Furner, CEO of Canberra Raiders at Raiders HQ in Braddon. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The best position to watch the football and get a feel for the speed and physical nature of a Raiders or Brumbies game at Canberra Stadium is on the sideline.

By sideline I am talking about the positions close to the action occupied by the media and the playing bench.

It’s great until the wind chill factor comes in and quickly it’s not even close to being the best place to be on a cold winter’s night in Canberra.

Mind you, there are very few parts of the stadium where you can escape the cold, apart from the change rooms, indoor corporate boxes and broadcast media facilities.

It has been one of the driving factors, apart from the ageing nature of Canberra Stadium, for building a new indoor stadium in Civic.

In 2012, Andrew Barr forecast that a new stadium with a clear polymer roof would be built by 2020.

Events conspired against this happening and eight years later it’s not even close to becoming a reality.

It appears to have slipped further down the list of priorities in the wake of the strained budget position because of COVID-19.

Raiders CEO Don Furner believes the whole concept and the way it can be funded needs a rethink.

The Raiders, with their $19 million Centre of Excellence, have shown how middle-sized to major projects can be funded with contributions from state and territory governments.

Given the Federal Government is looking at infrastructure projects to kick start the economy in the wake of COVID-19, Furner says the joint funding model could be an option.

And he goes further. He suggests it doesn’t need to be as expensive to build as has been forecast.

“At the end of the day, it’s what could be afforded. We can have heated seats and heated cement and it might only need to be activated three to four games a year. It’s really those 7.30 games in July and August that are really cold that are the issue, and people stay away.”

The elephant in the room is, of course, the retractable roof, which has been a key ingredient in the Civic Stadium concept but which can add up to $50 million to the cost of the project. It even impacts on the variety of grass that can be grown.

Furner says it could be time to consider a facility similar to the new Bank West Stadium, home to the Parramatta Eels.

“We don’t necessarily need a roof if all the seats are covered like Bank West, where all the spectators are covered. That in itself would be a big improvement to Bruce in terms of keeping the heat in and keeping the wind out. There are many different options. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a retractable roof.”

His comments, if nothing else, provide a wider scope for the proposed stadium. The original cost was estimated to be around $350 million .

The possibility of a stadium without a retractable roof and, therefore, a reduction in cost coupled with the possibility of a Federal Government construction stimulus injection, could make the facility far more economically palatable.

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