Beyond the crowds

The redevelopment of four great old rugby grounds over the past two decades mirrors the epic journey of commercial property chronicled by 100 issues of Total Property.

Total Property - Issue 7 2020

Around the time the first issue of Total Property went to print, the All Blacks ran on to Athletic Park for the last time. In the two decades since, the hallowed Wellington ground and famous international rugby stadiums in three other main centres have shut their gates to the crowds.

“Century-old rugby grounds at Athletic Park, Lancaster Park and Carisbrook, and rugby league’s Carlaw Park, have been redeveloped for uses spanning every major asset class of commercial real estate,” says Ryan Johnson, Bayleys’ national director commercial and industrial.

“This includes fast-rising ‘alternative’ assets like student accommodation, retirement housing, healthcare and childcare, whose emergence at these sites reflects the rapidly changing demographics and market dynamics that have taken these towards the investment mainstream.”

Johnson says the sites’ underlying real estate fundamentals – with expansive, flat land in close proximity to key transport routes, residential populations, business catchments or industrial precincts – made each of them ripe for commercial or industrial development.

“These great old grounds bred timeless sporting memories, but their journey since the crowds moved on makes them a microcosm of the commercial property scene. Their redevelopment mirrors the changing face of the sector through the first two decades of the 21st century.”

To mark the 100th edition of New Zealand’s leading commercial property magazine, Total Property revisited the famous grounds to chart their commercial property story after the crowds departed.

Lancaster Park, Christchurch

Also known as: Jade Stadium; AMI Stadium
Capacity at closure: 39,000
Opened: 1881 (cricket and athletics)
First rugby test: 1913 – Australia 16, All Blacks 5
Last test: 2010 – All Blacks 20, Australia 10
Memorable moment: “Spear tackle” on Lions great Brian O’Driscoll minutes into first test in 2005
Land area: Six hectares
Zoning: Open space metropolitan facilities
Commercial property development: Community playing fields and sports pavilion proposed. Rubble from demolished stands reused in mixed-use development in Rangiora

Lancaster Park had an inauspicious start when Australia pipped the All Blacks in the stadium’s first test in 1913. It met a sad and unexpected end when it was damaged beyond repair by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. The stadium had just emerged from a big makeover for games it would never host later that year in the Rugby World Cup. The intervening 98 years were the stuff of rugby legend.

In recent decades, Lancaster Park was a fortress of Canterbury domination with multiple Super Rugby titles, and before that a then-record Ranfurly Shield tenure brought to an end by Auckland in a game for the ages in 1985.

The park became the eye of a storm when, minutes into the first 2005 Lions test, Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu ended Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll’s tour with an alleged spear tackle. The ground also hosted cricket for many years and was the scene of New Zealand’s first test win over Australia. Deans and Hadlee stands attested to revered local dynasties in both sports.

The venue also hosted athletics, rock concerts, visits by the Queen and US evangelist Billy Graham. Champion runner Peter Snell broke two world records here in 1962.

Lancaster Park has since ceded rugby to a temporary arena in Addington, pending development of a $473 million, 25,000-seat roofed stadium in the central city.

Demolition of the old ground was completed in 2019, excluding the 1924 heritage-listed war memorial gates on Stevens Street.

The six hectares of council-owned land lies two kilometres south-east of the Christchurch CBD, bordered by medium-density housing on one side and elsewhere by light and heavy industrial real estate. It has a 2019 rating valuation of $6.6 million, but genuine commercial development is not an option.

Zoned “Open Space Metropolitan Facilities”, its use is restricted to sports, recreation and community gatherings – activities for which the land was dedicated to commemorate soldiers killed in World War I. Christchurch City Council proposes new playing fields and a possible sports pavilion.

Yet the old stadium is still giving life to new commercial property. Some 59,000 tonnes of demolished concrete has been re-used in a new mixed-use development in Rangiora whose early proposals included a museum, hotel, brewery and retail space.

This was part of the extensive reuse and recycling of materials from what was one of New Zealand’s largest demolition projects. Less than two percent of materials removed during the stadium’s deconstruction went to landfill, according to the council.

Athletic Park, Wellington

Also known as: Home of New Zealand Rugby; The Park
Capacity at closure: 39,000
Opened: 1896
First test: 1904 – New Zealand 9, Lions 3 Last test: 1999 – All Blacks 54, France 7
Memorable moment: “The perfect 80 minutes” 43-6 win over the Wallabies in the wet in 1996
Land area: 4.7 hectares
Zoning: Residential

Commercial property development: Village at the Park retirement village, run by Arvida; plus 150-place early learning centre.

Athletic Park was New Zealand’s home of rugby and the spiritual home of the All Blacks since before the national team was even known by that name. Opened on 6 April 1896 on a former dairy farm, “The Park” was the scene of some of the great test encounters. For years All Blacks teams were named in the bowels of the Main Stand after the final national trial was played out on the pitch.

But it was the towering, seemingly teetering two-tier Millard Stand that many fans will best remember. Standing at the crest of a hill between Rintoul Street and Adelaide Road, it was a commanding landmark on the solidly residential Berhampore skyline.

Those streets saw fierce clashes between riot police and protesters during the 1981 Springbok tour.

The stadium hosted visits by royalty and the pope and concerts by the likes of U2, David Bowie and Dire Straits.

In 1999 it held its last rugby test: a drubbing of France with a half-century score line and hat trick of tries by Tana Umaga that left the scoreboard reading like cricket. The ground closed later that year, replaced by a stadium dubbed “The Cake Tin” on surplus railway land just north of the CBD.

In 2002, Athletic Park’s Māori owners, the Wellington Tenths Trust, entered a partnership to develop the Village at the Park retirement village, along with a 150-place early childhood education centre now known as The Park, in a joint venture with the Hurst-Pratley group.

The village has been run by NZX-listed Arvida since 2017, when it took a 50 percent stake as part of a $106 million acquisition of three villages.

The 4.7-hectare site was progressively developed over the years, and Village at the Park is now marketed as a comprehensive lifestyle village.

It offers independent two- and three-bedroom villas, one- and two-bedroom apartments and specialised facilities including two care suites, 10 rest home beds, 42 hospital beds and 33 dementia care beds. An on-site community centre features a cinema, beauty salon, chapel and gym. The final 24-apartment block was completed in 2019.

In a nod to its stadium heritage, Village at the Park features a Millard Household and care facility wings named after two women with a long-standing involvement with Athletic Park: Mary Coleman and Rawinia Buchanan.

The full site, including retirement village and early learning centre, has a rating valuation dating to September 2018 of $62 million.

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