Pave paradise, put up a parking lot?

The Rotorua Lakes Council literally proposes paving paradise to put up a parking lot on the Springfield Golf Course. The map of the Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct Master Plan (Final) dated November 2019 shows they wish to create a massive car park that spans all the way from Douglas Street to Smallbone Park, eight cars deep in the middle. A pathway / road is also planned to take an enormous crowd from the new car park, down what is currently the 6th fairway, across a new bridge over the Utuhina Stream to what would be a new main Stadium entrance.

The problem is the Rotorua International Stadium (RIS) is already a serious “white elephant” that lost more than $1.8 million in the year ended 2019/20. By contrast, the Springfield Golf Club is financially viable. After managing and paying for the maintenance of some 90 acres of Council land itself, the club still paid the Council $62,204.07 for the lease, rates and water rates in the same financial year.

With the demise of the profitable Springfield Golf Club, which effectively subsides the other unprofitable sporting codes, the long-suffering ratepayers of Rotorua would have to pick up the difference forever more.

Apart from one British & Irish Lions match every twelve years (an impressive 28,500 people in 2017 but no guarantees for the next one in 2029) the carpark will mostly sit vacant, unused and unprofitable. There are already “good levels of parking (up to 3,984 parks)” for large events at the stadium, including the Westbrook Fields and Ray Board Park which can be utilised when needed. Car parking is simply no justification to destroy the taonga that is the Springfield Golf Course.

Here are some of the difficulties facing the Stadium:

  • Rotorua International Stadium is competing against 31 other major sporting venues in New Zealand but is doing so without a fixed or permanent user – such as a domestic rugby or cricket entity;

  • Bay of Plenty Rugby is an important client for RIS, historically accounting for a high proportion of events over 500 people. However, BOP Rugby Union currently receives RIS venue hire and support staff free of charge for BOP Steamers’ matches – about a $5,000 venue hire and $2,000 support staff cost per match;

  • BOP Rugby regards RIS as too large and cavernous, and for smaller crowds such as Mitre 10 Cup matches has no atmosphere. BOP Rugby commented it is important to address how to reduce the sense of space in the Stadium and to cater for a maximum crowd of 15,000, but given RIS already has the wider area could be expanded to 25,000 for a one-off fixture;

  • In 2021, the BOP Steamers are only scheduled to play one of their five home games at RIS with four to be played in Tauranga; and

  • There have been no concerts at RIS since Raggamuffin in 2013, which resulted in significant unpaid debt, yet the Master Plan optimistically predicts one such event per year.

The Rotorua International Stadium has run at a significant losses over the past three years:

Figures provided by Rotorua Lakes Council on 15 Sep 2020 pursuant to a LGOIMA Request

Frankly, it would be imprudent and indeed reckless to destroy a financially viable golf club, that manages and pays for the maintenance of 90 acres of Council land, in favour of a white elephant that already costs the ratepayers millions of dollars every year. This would only turn the current white elephant into an even bigger one and would destroy an income-generating asset that the community loves in the process. Let’s not throw good money after bad.

By Robert Lee

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