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Football

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Phoenix-sized proposal for stadium for Petone

Last updated 05:00 18/02/2014

PAUL EASTON

The Wellington Phoenix could be playing at a new boutique stadium in Petone in less than three years, if unveiled plans go ahead.

The 12,000-seat Petone Arena is a joint project by Phoenix owners Welnix and Hutt City Council's Community Facilities Trust.

The stadium is estimated to cost $48 million - with $25m of that to come from Lower Hutt ratepayers.

If all goes ahead as planned, construction could start as early as next year. "We want the Nix running out to . . . a full stadium as they start their 2016-17 campaign," trust chairman Alister Skene said yesterday.

Phoenix co-owner Gareth Morgan, who has been outspoken in the past about the club's need for a smaller venue than Westpac Stadium, said: "This is a great day for Wellington fans, but we have to remain sober. There's significant fundraising to be done, consents to be satisfied and a timetable to be met.

"We have to reinvent the game-day experience, and the start of that process is a stadium . . . where the fans get up and personal with the players."

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The Phoenix have struggled in recent seasons to attract crowds of more than about 7000, leaving acres of empty seats at the 35,000-capacity Westpac Stadium. Morgan said yesterday that the Welnix owners would put up their share of the cash.

"We're putting in enough that it hurts. I've put in what I'm prepared to put in and the other guys are making their minds up.

"But we've got enough to make sure this goes ahead."

The Community Facilities Trust is a council-controlled organisation and will not be putting up money. Its role will be to arrange community and corporate fundraising, while Hutt City Council ratepayers will be asked for about $25m.

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace described the project as "a very exciting opportunity, not just for Lower Hutt, but for the Wellington region".

It was too early to say how the $25m would be raised, but the community would be consulted through the Annual Plan process.

"The Hutt City Council is financially in the best shape of all the councils in the region. We're in a position to invest in our city," he said.

The arena would also be used for concerts, events, club rugby, Team Wellington football matches, and possibly Wellington Lions and Hurricanes games. It would become the training and administration base for the Phoenix.

Mr Skene said it would fill a gap in the market. "We don't have a sports ground or a concert venue in Wellington that can comfortably accommodate a crowd of around 10,000 people."

He believed it would complement, rather than compete with, Westpac Stadium, and he was confident fans would travel to Petone.

"If you look at British football, the train ride is half the experience. Look out KiwiRail!"

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said it was important for the Phoenix to stay in the Wellington region.

"If this is going to work for them, then that's fine. We really like having the Phoenix in Wellington and they're going to play their big games at Westpac Stadium."

Phoenix general manager David Dome said the club had investigated alternative venues, including Newtown Park, Karori Park and Mt Victoria before settling on Petone. However, town belt planning rules had proved a sticking point.

Westpac Stadium chief executive Shane Harmon said he would prefer to work with the Phoenix to build crowd numbers, rather than see them depart.

Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison said atmosphere was a problem at Westpac Stadium. "While our fans are very vocal, if you have a crowd of 8000, it's a bit like having a tadpole in a 40-gallon drum."

Phoenix supporters' group Yellow Fever spokesman Guy Smith backed the Petone plans.

"We think it's pretty exciting and it's important that fans get behind it."

- The Dominion Post

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