Wellington Westpac Stadium is where the worlds of rugby, rock and recreation collide to form a cultural and social entertainment realm like no other.
It is the zone in which the presence of international personalities attracted by the stadium’s world-class facilities, draws in multicultural crowds, that line the walls like an international tapestry.
And if the stadium’s walls could talk, no doubt they would have many a colourful story to tell.
Officially opened on January 3, 2000, this year marks a decade of the Westpac Stadium successfully entertaining Wellingtonians and their neighbours. In daylight, at dusk, or when the sun retires for the day and 392 two-thousand watt globes mounted in four lighting towers shower light into the arena; Westpac Stadium is Wellington’s event epicentre.
Building the vision
The Wellington Westpac Stadium’s got quite a history. Having hosted 14 international rugby tests, 10 Wellington Sevens tournaments, as well as international acts including Robbie Williams, David Bowie, Neil Diamond and The Rolling Stones in its lifetime; the evolution of the stadium from inception to creation, was a progressive process, encompassing the brains and brawn of a committed collective.
With a footprint measuring 1.8 hectares, the Westpac Stadium has made quite an impression on windy Wellington. The catalyst was the desire to ensure the continuation of the NPC, Super 12 and Test Match rugby in Wellington. As the brainchild of the then Mayor Fran Wilde and like-minded associates, the Westpac Stadium was to provide an alternative and superior venue option to Athletic Park.
The Wellington City Council (WCC) and the Wellington Regional Council established the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust (WRST) under the 1957 Charitable Trusts Act. This professional body then assumed responsibility for the planning, development, construction, ownership, operation and maintenance of the stadium.
The Westpac Stadium’s structural and aesthetic formation was inspired by the desire to make the venue more than just a sports stadium.
It was designed to accommodate not only sport, but exhibitions, concerts, conferences and sports related functions as well.
The stadium’s location by the railway was selected to attract a strong regional audience who could travel to the venue via train. And with approximately one third of all stadium spectators using the train to attend events, it is evident this vision has been realised.
The stadium was built with the investment of funding from various sources, including public monies from the WCC, the Wellington Regional Council, the NZ Lottery Grants Board and the Community Trust of Wellington.
With the understanding the stadium would generate significant economic and civic benefits for the Wellington Region, loan funds were also employed.
As the most ‘craned’ construction job ever undertaken by Fletchers Construction Company, the lightweight concrete utilised for the stadium was 20 to 30 percent lighter than ordinary concrete, although the larger units still weighed up to 35 tonnes. Approximately 18,000 cubic metres, which equates to 5000 truckloads of concrete, were used in total for this build. In addition, 1590 tonnes of structural steel, 2700 tonnes of reinforcing steel and 250,000 concrete blocks were utilised.
Commissioning the efforts of 250 construction staff on site and a further 230 off site, the Wellington Westpac stadium cost $130 million to build. This finance was provided by:
- Wellington Regional Council — $25 million
- Wellington City Council — $15 million
- Grants and donations — $7 million
- Fundraising — $50 million
- ANZ Bank loan — $33 million
Having been embraced by the entire Wellington region, the Westpac Stadium has also received significant community support via the Stadium Supporters Club and a Yellow Ribbon campaign where 75 percent of regional ratepayers said “yes” to the construction of the stadium in a referendum. In addition, 2500 Wellingtonians and corporates bought memberships to the stadium prior to it being built.
A cultural asset
Did you know that if a ball is hit from centre wicket to outside the Westpac grounds, the distance it travels is 98 metres?
Were you aware that electricians installed 4.9 kilometres of electrical cabling and construction crews installed 3.5 kilometres of fencing, barriers and handrails in the Westpac Stadium?
What may not appear obvious to the naked eye is what structurally and aesthetically has contributed to making Westpac Stadium an international standard premier venue. As one of the biggest pre-cast concrete construction efforts undertaken in New Zealand, the 4000 lightweight concrete units cast in Otaki and New Plymouth provided the foundations for what has become a cultural asset to Wellington.
And if its attractiveness as a venue was ever in dispute, the figures certainly do the talking. There are more than 1100 private functions per year at Westpac Stadium, which is home to three major sports franchises — the Hurricanes, Lions and Phoenix teams. The average annual surpluses for the stadium have been in excess of $2 million throughout the last four years. For 2010 to 2011, the surplus is expected to be $1.86 million and for 2011—2012, $2.53 million.
Of the 5.4 million visitors who passed through the Westpac Stadium gates in the last 10 years, more than 1.1 million have been from outside the Wellington region. The $484 million that has been generated from the venue has also created approximately 670 full-time jobs.
Business and Economic Research Limited was commissioned to conduct an independent assessment of the economic benefits brought to the Wellington region by the stadium in its first 10 years of operation.
This report has revealed, the $484 million economic impact of Westpac Stadium during its first ten years, is more than double what was originally forecast before its construction.
Of these results, Westpac Regional Stadium Trust chief executive David Gray says, “Our audience levels are 50 percent higher than even the most optimistic forecasts when the stadium was first proposed. In fact, what the research has told us, is that across the board in the last five years, the benefits have been 50 percent greater than during the first five years.”
The Westpac Stadium has been home to a pro-wrestling tournament, countless one day internationals and 20/20 games, NRL rugby league, four international league tests, a World Cup qualifying All Whites soccer game, as well as Lions, Hurricanes and Phoenix games.
In 2010, the stadium kicked off its 10 year anniversary with 11 major events in only 30 days. The festivities started with two ACDC gigs held in late January — the rock sounds reverberating throughout Wellington City. Six days later, 69,000 eclectically dressed Sevens fans were part of the biggest tournament party in the country held at the stadium.
Next on the venue menu for 2010, were three Phoenix games; each breaking the crowd attendance record of the previous and culminating in a sell-out stadium for the A League (football) finals. And just as things were winding down, the Hurricanes blew in for two games and the stadium channelled the spirit of Oktoberfest with its first Beer Festival.
“We have hosted events that would have never found their way here, without the presence of a world class stadium like Westpac,” Gray says. “This stadium really adds to the vibrancy of the city and fits in easily with the citys objective to be an event city.
“Wellington is a city that punches above its waist, in that it is home to only 300,000 people yet it is hosting events for 40,000 people – a sizeable proportion of the population. It really is a unique venue in Australasia in this respect.”
The arrival of football at the Westpac stadium has helped off-set the decline in rugby attendance. The establishment of the Wellington Phoenix football team, based at the stadium, has been identified as a key contributor to the commercial benefits of the venue, as have the success of the full-house All Whites v Bahrain and Los Angeles Galaxy v Phoenix games.
With average attendances of 7000 to 10,000 people at Phoenix games, the sport is growing a strong following in the region and beyond. The Sevens and associated festivities contribute more than one-fifth of all economic benefit to the region derived from the stadium.
On average, Sevens visitors are spending 2.7 nights in the region, with 63 percent of patrons continuing their festivities in downtown Wellington after the game. In 2009, the direct spend was estimated at $12 million. “One of the jewels in the Stadium event crown has been the NZI Sevens which was not in the original 1996 study,” Gray says.
The Westpac Stadium had also hosted the Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup soccer tournaments, Air New Zealand Cup finals and Tri-Nations rugby.
Events and exhibitions
While sport is at the cultural core of Westpac Stadium, the lineup of gigs and musicians who have played there reads like the who’s who of world-class music. Kiss, Ozzy Osborne and Elton John have all wooed adoring crowds at the stadium throughout the past decade.
On January 31, 2009, the Crusty Demons “Unleash Hell Tour,” brought the stadium to life with amazing moto-X stunts. Exhibitions including The Parent and Child Show, the Home Garden Show and the Food Show have also proven to be popular events.
Large one-off events such as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo exhibition, have also played a major role in the increased economic benefit of the stadium, as more than 50 percent of attendees travel from outside the region, generating substantial spend during their stay.
“If we look back at the original stadium feasibility studies in 1996, we assumed on holding 14 regular major events. The stadium
is now hosting between 40 to 50 major events a year. Last year we welcomed our five millionth patron through the gates,” Gray says.
“This was a major milestone when the original project plan for the stadium projected that we would host our five millionth patron in 2017. We are eight years ahead of the original schedule.”
The Westpac Stadium is also a premier location for businesses and individuals looking for a hosting environment that is a hybrid of practicality and comfortability. Lounges include couches, bar leaners, two wide screen television sets and event hire packages can include:
- Two course buffet meals
- Comprehensive beverage selection and bar tab service
- Members gate entry
- Reserved covered seating, level four balcony
- Full hospitality two hours prior to and after a match.
Additional club facilities have taken the title of principal funder, Deloittes. The Deloittes Club facilities include a gallery on level four which features an exclusive members dining room capable of seating up to 750 diners on event days. The gallery also offers 800 tiered viewing seats as well as fine dining options.
The Deloittes Lounge, also on level four, accommodates up to 500 members in a casual setting with two bar areas and tiered seating available. In addition, the Deloittes Clubroom is an informal area where food cooked in the spirit of traditional game festivities is available — think gourmet hamburgers and chips.
For the 2009 to 2010 financial year, 48 major events were booked at the Westpac Stadium and there are more than 700 functions held a year.
“Our task is to continue to maintain our high standards and ensure that the Westpac Stadium remains New Zealand’s most loved stadium and of world-class,” Gray says of the future.
To maintain this status, a generous budget is allowed for maintenance, which is currently in excess of $1.1 million each year.
The regular replacement of assets that have reached the end of their economic life will continue to be a priority, in accordance with Westpac Stadium’s asset management plan.
Additional capital expenditure will also be committed, as certain areas are upgraded prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup festivities.
Accessible by foot, train, bus, car, taxi, ferry and plane, Westpac Stadium is a multi-functional facility, recognised for its commitment to sustainability. For the next decade, the stadium will be well positioned to deal with difficult economic times associated with the recession, given the WRST is $4 million ahead of scheduled loan payments.