NZ Warriors told to pack their bags and leave
THE Warriors have been told they must leave Mt Smart Stadium when their lease expires in 2018 and can relocate to the North Shore - a decision that has sparked a defiant reaction from the club's chairman.
Facing a potential redevelopment bill of $70 million for the league club's ageing home, council planners have instead stitched together a $30 million scheme that will usher in a sweeping reform of Auckland's sporting stadiums.
North Shore's QBE Stadium is to become the primary venue for league, soccer and some rugby matches likely to attract fewer than 25,000 spectators, with Eden Park to remain the venue for bigger events.
QBE is to undergo a $12 million upgrade that will see a roof installed over the western stand and the ground's capacity increased to 30,600. A retractable roof that would enclose the stadium could then be added when funding is available.
The spending - which has been approved by Auckland Council and now needs only to pass through a public consultation phase early next year to become a reality - also includes $12 million for a boutique international cricket ground/concert venue at Western Springs and $5 million to assist speedway promoters to relocate from Western Springs to Mt Smart.
"[Council has] given us the green light to start drilling down into the detail and start negotiating with people," the plan's architect Robert Domm, the chief executive of Regional Facilities Auckland, said.
"There are a whole bunch of variables here that have to fit into place but, with the exception of the Warriors at this point in time, everyone else is on board."
A Warriors club that has vowed to remain at Mt Smart is most certainly not on board. Club chairman Bill Wavish told the Weekend Herald: "I don't place much credence in what Robert Domm has to say."
Mr Domm was due to exit his position in December and "we have been asked by the council to forestall legal action until Domm has gone", Mr Wavish said. The Warriors were engaged in separate "mutually respectful" discussions with council staff.
Mr Domm said the club's public posturing over Mt Smart was at odds with views privately expressed by its officials and was a negotiating tactic designed to get the best deal from the council.
"They play the game pretty hard. They'll say one thing in public and another to us privately. They can slag off at us in the media as much as they like but that is not going to make the ratepayers give them $60-$70 million," Mr Domm said. "How do you justify spending $60 million-$70 million on a private franchise when a whole bunch of community projects are being deferred because council can't afford to build them?
Mr Domm acknowledged the plan would be unpopular with a "hardcore" of vocal South Auckland-based Warriors fans. However the Warriors' own market research showed most of the club's fans in fact came from central Auckland, he said.
"Of course there is an element of Warriors fans that are [against] this. But are they going to put their hands in their pockets to spend $70 million to fix up Mt Smart?
"All the Warriors fans have to do is drive 20 minutes down the road to Albany."
Mr Wavish said Warriors' fans would be appalled by that stance.
Mr Domm said the Warriors would be offered a deal that would allow the club to build up its fan base at its new home ground.
"Our job whether we get criticised by you in the paper tomorrow or whatever is to try to find solutions and we are bloody going to do it," he said. "People have got to be realistic. There is not a bottomless pit of ratepayers' money."
Auckland Council's decision to kick the Warriors out of Mt Smart Stadium is a "declaration of war", the club's number one fan Sir Peter Leitch says.
"It's bullshit," a furious Sir Peter told the Weekend Herald. "Absolute bullshit. The council are in for fight. We'll be rallying our troops."
A club ambassador, Sir Peter was appalled at Auckland Council's intention to relocate the Warriors to North Shore's QBE Stadium.
"This is ridiculous," he said. "Why don't they just leave us alone, spend a few bob and get [Mt Smart] up to a bit better standard. I tell you now the fans will not be happy. It's a declaration of war."
Sir Peter slammed the suggestion that upgrading Mt Smart was too expensive. "How come the council have got money to move into the big flash office blocks and they say they have no money?
"Mate, they find the money when they want to. They found the money for the world cup. They found the money to move into their new office."
The head of the council's regional facilities arm Robert Domm defended the decision.
A $12 million upgrade of QBE Stadium meant the Warriors would have two quality venues to choose from when their lease on Mt Smart expires in 2018.
"We are presenting them with a good alternative to Eden Park if they don't want Eden Park," Mr Domm said. "At the end of the day Mt Smart cannot justify the level of expenditure necessary to maintain that as an option post 2018. We can only be honest about that and give them years of notice. We are not just saying 'go to Eden Park', we are saying we will invest in QBE which is a good option for you if you want it.
"It has got to come down to a commercial negotiation and people have got to be sensible about it."
Mr Domm did not believe the Warriors would consider relocating to another city after 2018.
"We don't see that as a possibility. We don't see them walking away from their fanbase in Auckland simply because they can't do a deal to play at Eden Park or QBE. That's illogical."