Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the second focus group to discuss the Western Sydney Stadium. As you may have seen from Sixties post a couple of weeks ago, the Eels and the Wanderers were asked to supply a number of fans to discuss some ideas and give feedback from their experiences watching sport both locally and internationally. Sixties and I were joined by four fellow members of the Eels Members Council so that evened the numbers up a bit more this time.
Funnily enough, while we were there, Sydney Morning Herald released a story on the stadium. That story was completely accurate. You can read it here – http://www.1eyedeel.com/forum/topics/design-plans-for-300-million-stadium-in-parramatta-to-be-unveiled
I am going to attempt to provide you with as much information as possible regarding what they are considering and the thinking behind some of their decisions. Therefore, this is a long and detailed post. Hope you can get through it ok!!
The Contracting Process
PwC has been engaged to conduct a review for the NSW Government in an attempt to create a document that will be released to the market called an Expression of Interest. For those not familiar with this term, it gives companies who might be interested in bidding for the demolition and construction an opportunity to review the brief and determine if they would like to participate further into the selection process.
Once the EOI has been returned, a short list will be compiled before a more formal Request for Proposal is lodged, moving to the negotiation of contracts and the commencement of demolition and construction.
The project is being considered and funded based on the Stadium having a 50 year lifespan. This is a critical to understand as it became apparent that from day 1, what we get we will have to accept for a long time, probably longer than most of us will be around for!
PwC performed a similar role for the new Perth Stadium that is being build next to Crown (on top of the golf course to my absolute dismay) That Stadium is being built by Brookfield with technology deployments through the likes of Cisco and Telstra (interest declared).
PwC then went on to detail some of the items that will be included in the document to the bidders.
- The Pitch needs to be of the highest quality.
- The Pitch will be as small as possible, enhancing the spectator experience. Likely to be 2 metres shorter and 1 metre wider, primarily for broadcast equipment / purposes
- The ‘tight’ seating bowl of Parramatta Stadium (i.e. close to the action) needs to be retained.
- The roof will cover all seats with the ‘drip line’ (where rain falls off the front of the roof) being on the edge of the field
- A ‘people’s venue’ philosophy will be mandated where safety and comfort are paramount construction and design objectives.
- Flip seats, which are wider than the current fixed seats will be deployed. These seats will be in different shades of grey, which are supposedly longer lasting in outdoors conditions and better for broadcasts when the seats are empty.
- The players will sit in ‘dug out’s’
- LED ribbon advertising will be installed all the way around the field and at the front of the stands
- There will be a terrace area that encourages family participation. It was mentioned that this could include a kids zone where parents could watch the kids play and also watch the game.
- Wider walkways including aisles
- Universal access so disabled / wheelchair spectators can watch the game sitting anywhere, rather than the designated areas we see today.
- Purified water drinking fountains will be distributed throughout the Stadium
- There will be diverse catering – more on this later
- Dedicated merchandise outlets
- More gates and entrances
- A Custodial Room (gaol cells) under the Stadium. The Wanderers fans appreciated this more than the mobile cop bus that greets them at the gates when they arrive at each game.
- High speed broadband, video screens and lighting
- A top quality PA
- Rain harvesting roofs
- 2 huge LED screens in opposite corners
- 360 degrees access around the stadiums for people and vehicles.
- Four change rooms to make transition between games more efficient
- Dedicated medical rooms because at the moment, if there is a corpse in your change room, you can’t do anything about it. (If you don’t know what I mean, watch our Jack Gibson tribute).
Areas Under Investigation
There were several areas still under investigation. These include
- Rail seating, as described in the earlier report by Sixties.
- Capacity or expansion of the Stadium – more later
- Traffic control and access
- Dedicated zone near change rooms and where the players enter the Stadium for fans
I can understand the Wanderers request for rail seating. It works well in some parts of Europe, and when designed and installed safely, it would be a tremendous way to watch football. In this circumstance, I just can’t see it happening for them.
Firstly, they have very little political capital at the moment, so I cant see the Police or NSW Government doing them any favours. There would be significant resistance from an OH&S level. We are over regulated in the Lucky Country these days.
Secondly, the rail seating isn’t allowed in FIFA competitions. I am not sure about AFC matches, but just making the point that for those games to be played at our new Stadium, the rails will have to be removed. For Rugby League games, in order for a clear view, it is likely that the rails will need to be removed. A removable system brings in design challenges, additional costs, storage requirements and additional maintenance.
Anyway, I could be wrong, we will see.
We spent a significant part of the meeting discussing catering. We filled in a survey, which was mainly targeted at our willingness to eat at the Stadium under certain scenarios such as food choices, quality and price
- Potentially, cafes and restaurants will be built under the stand on the Eastern side, facing the current pool (or sitting on top of it) which will be open to ticketed patrons on game day. These outlets might be open to the public on non game days.
- We made the point that these days, Parramatta offers tremendous food options and greasy crap at Pirtek just wont cut it. There were comments about bringing ‘eat street’ to the stadium, craft brewers, tea houses and wine bars. All sounded very sophisticated. House prices are like the Eastern suburbs so why cant the footy experience match!
- Options for outlets include everything you can think of. A lovely Wanderers fan reminded everyone that we had forgotten a noodle house so that went down too.
I get the feeling that the new Stadium will encourage you to have an experience, not just come to watch the football. The excitement and activity around the area will encourage you to come and eat, drink and socialise before or after a game, rather than the ‘hit and run’ approach of the modern spectator. I think it will be brilliant if they can pull it off.
A number of items have been excluded from the brief
- A pedestrian bridge over O’Connell Street (budget)
- Retractable roof (budget)
Specific Requests of Bidders
The bidders will be asked to specifically detail the following in their responses
- Precinct Master Plan to separate cars and people
- Unlike today’s experience, where you can be hit by a car or bus leaving the game, the car park between the leagues club and ground will most likely go. I think they will extend the car park at the southern end of the Pool. This additional space, in combination with the 1000 or so spots at new Leagues Club car park will be about as much parking as we get.
- Study existing parking availability for Park and Ride scenarios
- Out the back of the Cronin Stand, facing O’Connell Street, where you can find Miatch on the microphone most game days, will be the site of a ‘Plaza’. This will be the major entry point for patrons into the Stadium precinct. We spoke about having open food areas, drink stands, a large screen so you can watch the preceding game or perhaps a game from another venue before entering for the main event. When this area is joined up to the walkway from the redeveloped Leagues Club, you can start to imagine the possibilities of something very special in that area for fans.
- Orientation of the ground
- It is possible that the orientation of the ground may change. Design guidelines indicate the ground can face anywhere between due north and 15 degrees to the east.
- Inclusion of other commercial opportunities such as indoor sports, additional restaurants and bars and tourism accommodation in order to make use of the facility on non game days.
Consideration of Bidders
Bidders will be asked to consider the following in their responses
- Alcohol free zones
- Fan groups sitting together
- Stadium technology
- Merchandising stores
- Banking facilities
- Hall of Fame, Memorabilia
- Stadium tours
- Vehicle access from all parts of the ground in order to reduce ‘turning circle’ damage
- The venue will host Rugby League, Rugby Union, Football, concerts, functions and even weddings for ex Auburn Councillors.
- The Stadium is planned for 50% female attendance so the usual issues of long toilet queues, baby feeding / changing rooms should be covered.
The appropriate Government Authority is investigating these items:
- Links with Public Transport
- Shuttle buses
- Less intrusive Police presence
- Taking over the Pool is a possibility, although somewhere to relocate it to and the cost is a different story.
Ok, if you have stuck with me for this long, you will want to know about the capacity issue.
The Wanderers and the their fans in attendance are pushing strongly for capacity to be increased to 35,000. This as we know, would be 32,000 punters and 3,000 toffs. 5,000 more punters than currently planned.
The feedback from PwC was that the Eels haven’t really been pushing this issue hard. I find that to be short sighted if correct.
We spoke for some time about ways in which the stadium could be built in such a way that capacity can be added over time. The general feeling was that we need to grab the cash now, spend it on the best possible Stadium because Parramatta wont be seeing any more cheques from Macquarie Street for about three generations.
The capacity enhancements where all pretty much unacceptable anyway. If you want to build a 30k Stadium and expand it to 40k in 15 years, you basically have to build it for 40k on day one. This is because you need to allow for the facilities such as toilets, walkways, seating areas etc, unless you want to take off a roof which would be cost prohibitive.
For those people calling for more than 35k, the budget wont stretch that far. There are also other considerations such as Heritage Listed views, Parramatta Park and other height restrictions. 35k is our best case.
The PwC crew spoke about Perth, where they were hoping to get some out of the box thinking from the leading three Stadium builders in the world. They got the same old designs and costs. It is just not possible to extend these things for a decent cost. Day 1 is what we will have for a long time as far as capacity is concerned. So understanding this, we agreed that PwC would take our feedback to the Authorities that anything less than a 35,000 seater is short sighted and only solving today’s problems.
A couple of things to finish.
I understand there was a bit of animosity at the first meeting. I wasn’t at that one, but I must say that this meeting was conducted with respect from both the Eels fans and Wanderers. In fact, I reckon we agreed on just about everything, which is a bit scary. PwC handled the process professionally as you would expect from a firm of their reputation. They were prepared, shared a lot of detail with us and answered as many questions as possible.
It was a worthwhile exercise and I am sure our feedback will be considered during the bidding process. We will get together as a group again after the final contract has been awarded.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Go the Eels !!