Eden Park rebuffed for $120,000 a week grant

The financially strapped Auckland Council has resisted a late bid for millions more in funding to Eden Park

Auckland councillors have turned down the owners of Eden Park’s bid for $6.3 million a year in grants from ratepayers for the next decade – cutting that $120,000 a week request down to just $125,000 in interest costs for one year.

The Eden Park Trust’s application for the grant was pitched as a way to ensure Auckland showcased itself as state-of-the-art, rather than a city of failing facilities, when the Fifa Women’s World Cup is hosted in New Zealand and Australia early next year.

Auckland is already contributing $13m towards the Cup events and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment will spend a further $25m of taxpayers’ money.

Read more: Eden Park wants $6.3ma year from ratepayers

Eden Park’s initial $6.3m request said the money could be used to waterproof grandstands and upgrade lighting, seating, power facilities and a function room. The amount is one-tenth of the total for maintenance and upgrades estimated by consultancy EY in 2019. Eden Park Trust wanted the $6.3m fund annually for the next decade to cover all of those costs.

The request followed a $9.8m no-strings-attached grant in 2019 when the council took over the park’s $40m bank debt, and packaged up $13m in loans to the council, at a favorable interest rate.

However a full meeting of the Auckland Council on Thursday declined to make the initial $6.3m gift, which would have been a cost of about $120,000 a week, instead backing a proposal by council officers to tell Eden Park to make use of the $5m un -Utilized loan facility it still has available from the council after the 2019 bailout.

Councilors agreed to cover the estimated $125,000 interest cost on that extra $5m for one year. They hope negotiations between the council, Eden Park Trust and the council’s Tataki Auckland Unlimited arm could by then have resulted in a new management solution for all city stadiums.

The council’s chief financial officer Peter Gudsell said there was no funding available in the 2022-23 budget so the $125,000 would need to be added to the council’s overall debt. “This is not something that I would normally advise,” he told councilor Pippa Coom. “It’s not something that sits particularly nicely for our requirement in the budget for having a prudent use of debt. It is very much a last resort because we have no other options at this stage.”

Debate on the Eden Park grant request and the officers’ suggested loan response was spirited. One councillor, Daniel Newman, regretting that discussions on financial support for Eden Park “just seems to generate such a visceral response”.

He backed the loan, not as an optimal solution, but to support ‘New Zealand’s stadium’. “I just hope this is not the start of a case of the council winding down the clock to achieve an outcome through the consolidated operator model for stadiums.”

Councilor Cathy Casey complained that she was tired of being made to feel guilty for questioning Eden Park’s repeated calls on Auckland ratepayers’ money.

“I would like to say to Eden Park: ‘Just stop coming to Auckland ratepayers, cap in hand. If you really are a national stadium, get in a plane and go to Wellington.

“We’ve been very generous as a council. We’ve done you proud. It has to stop.”

She objected to some councillors saying the $125,000 in interest costs on the extra $5m loan Eden Park could now use was a tiny amount. “There are massive amounts of good work we could be doing with $125,000.”

Mayor Phil Goff opposed the $9.8m grant to Eden Park three years ago. “I could not possibly support, and did not support last time, granting tens of millions of dollars to an organization we neither own nor control.”

The latest Eden Park ask was for $62.8m over the next 10 years. “Say that slowly,” Goff told the meeting. “We do not have that money and if we did have that money I’m not sure we could give preference to Eden Park.

He backed the offer of making the remaining $5m of Eden Park’s loan facility interest-free for a year as “pragmatic” but expressed doubts about the trust’s suggestions the Fifa World Cup arrangements could have been put in doubt without extra support.

“I’ve seen no evidence that Fifa other than intends to have its opening or semifinal match at Eden Park.”

Councilor Wayne Walker was disappointed: “It’s not able to be a grant but we may be able to revisit that in the future and I would hope so.”

The $125,000 was a tiny amount for the council to be quibbling over.

Linda Cooper urged Eden Park Trust to take up the offer of the extra $5m loan interest-free. “I hope [they] eat a bit of humble pie for a change.”

Two councillors, Chris Darby and Cathy Casey, voted against Auckland covering the $125,000 interest cost, with Greg Sayers abstaining.

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