Sport is a wonderful pastime that gives so much to players and spectators, individuals and communities.
Investing public funds in sport is worth doing because it adds to community wellbeing. But investing in a new football stadium in Townsville’s CBD is not a good investment for three key reasons... there are better ways to invest in public infrastructure, the concept of a combined football stadium-convention centre is flawed, and the proposed stadium will likely cost far more than the $300 million currently being suggested.
No argument that the Cowboys (the main beneficiaries of a new stadium) are a champion team. They do the region proud every time they run onto the field, and the team and the fans deserve a first class facility. But the current playing surface is excellent and the ground is well serviced by ample car parking. It is located ‘where the people are’, but also has a good shuttle bus service. Although sellouts are rare (so capacity is not an issue), the facility could do with an upgrade. $50 million of public money, topped up with fundraising and investment from the private sector would give Townsville a first class sporting facility. It would also free up between $250M and $450M for other important local projects – more on this in my next blog.
Unlike most politicians, I want to start by justifying my figures.
Building a new stadium would be sure to cost more than $300 million because experience tells us that big public projects always run over-budget. If you don't believe me just Google 'costs blow out' to see how often it happens.
There are two main reasons for this... one political, the other logistical.
Politically, it is easier to get a proposal for a $200M or $300M stadium up than a $500M stadium, so typically the projections for these projects are set as low as is believable, because once $200M has been spent on a half completed stadium, everyone wants to see the project completed rather than waste the money on providing the city with an unusable construction site. A half built stadium makes it easier to get the full $500M to complete the project.
Logistically, you have to deal with the fact that much of the proposed site is landfill, which will have implications for the stadium foundations (significant cost), and the fact that being an old rail yards site, there are significant soil toxicity issues (more cost). Then you have the impact of weather events (think cyclones and floods) and a range of other unknowns (like short term material and labour/skill shortages, errors, design modifications, foreign exchange fluctuations, etc) that invariably lead to delays and cost increases.
The problem with spending $300M or $500M on one piece of Townsville infrastructure is that other important local infrastructure will not receive any funding for a significant period of time. The political argument will be 'we just spent $300M on you, you will now need to go to the back of the queue with the rest of your wish list'.
And finally, the concept of a combined stadium/convention centre. The real purpose of this proposal is to make the project politically saleable and to attract the large amount of public funding needed.
Even assuming that the concept could work (turf, open roof, stands?), such a combination is not best practice... Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth convention centres ... all of them are fantastic buildings, they all attract great performers, events and conventions, and none of them double up as a football stadium.
Given the success of all those facilities... why would Townsville be the exception, and how would this attract the kind of events that all the other capitals do?
Answer... it wouldn't.
These are the reasons not to spend up to $300m+ on a new Townsville stadium. In the next blog I'll outline some ways in which the money would be far better spent.
by Wendy Tubman
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.