‘Hinges on many things’: New stadium in Canberra remains on the backburner

An upgraded stadium facility in the nation’s capital has been on the agenda for years, yet despite a new 36-page proposal submitted to the Prime Minister, ACT Chief Minister and Canberra’s Members of Parliament by a consortium, the matter remains on the backburner.  

A 30,000-seat sporting stadium on the site of the Civic Olympic Pool could be used by the Raiders, while it is also hoped an enviable entertainment venue will unlock the precinct.

“Canberra deserves a new stadium that will light up the city, generate civic pride and make it a destination for major events,” Super Rugby chairman Hamish McLennan told The Canberra Times.

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“The current stadium lacks fan and corporate amenities and modern player facilities.

“We’d love the opportunity to bring bigger games to Canberra and fans from around Australia and the world – but the reality is that Canberra has fallen behind the rest of the country as a sports-event destination.

“We’d urge the ACT Government to consider all options to give Canberrans the sporting venue in the city they deserve, and which reflects its standing as the capital of our amazing country.”

However, Chief Minister Andrew Barr put a dampener on the proposal when he cited how it was still not economically viable. 

“There’s nothing I’ve seen yet that says this is a goer,” Barr said per Riotact. “But there are some ideas, particularly around the design.”

An ‘inverted bowl’ design has been proposed to negate fears around the limitations of the footprint of the site. While an overhanging roof could potentially be constructed with a product known as ethylene tetrafluoroethylene membrane to allow for the natural growing of grass on the pitch.

The business syndicate who submitted the proposals estimated the total cost of the work – including a lucrative new convention centre and a nearby hotel – to be between $495m and $736m.

Barr disagreed with this figure though and argued that the cost would end up far exceeding this number, stating how some of the components of the necessary infrastructure had actually been underestimated to the tune of around half a billion dollars.

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A centrally located stadium has been envisioned for a number of years but has never been approved for the next stage of planning, as dissatisfaction with an ageing GIO Stadium continues to plague Canberra.

The venue was originally opened for the Pacific Conference Games in 1977 and has undergone numerous redevelopments since. Although, recently it has been left behind as state-of-the-art stadiums around the country – notably, Queensland Country Bank Stadium and CommBank Stadium – have been built.

A new sports stadium in the ACT was even a hot topic of discussion during this year’s federal election campaign, with former Wallabies international David Pocock – who is now a senator – calling for a venue to be built to host home matches for the Raiders, Brumbies and a potential new A-League outfit in the city. 

The stadium was labelled as a “dead space” by Pocock which was too disconnected from other amenities to attract people to the area. 

Previously, Barr held the same view of constructing an inner-city site but has since changed his opinion to be in favour of revamping GIO Stadium. 

Raiders chairman, Dennis Richardson, went on record that the club’s current home had “reached its use-by date” and a new national stadium should be a priority.

Ricky Stuart went a step further, declaring how “we’re the capital city of Australia and we probably have the worst stadium.”

The new proposal has been supported by the Canberra Business Chamber, with CEO Graham Catt underlining how the nation’s lack of up-to-date facilities were severely impacting upon Canberra’s ability to attract both cultural and sporting events.

“The National Convention Centre is the only centre in the country that hasn’t expanded its footprint since it was built, and that results in a lack of capacity and a situation where we often can’t accommodate important national and global events,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have struggled to fill their 25,000-seat stadium, failing to sell out once during the 2022 campaign while also utilising, on average, just 43% of the stadium’s capacity.

“We’ll have a look, but it hinges on many things, most of which are very challenging,” Barr said of the proposal for the new site.

“I want to be very clear there will be no announcements in the ACT budget next year for a billion dollars for a new stadium.

“This doesn’t change much but it does invite a further conversation on some elements.”

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