A stadium we can all enjoy – even after the Olympics

 

The proposed redevelopment of the Gabba to act as the main stadium at our hoped-for Olympic Games in 2032 is an exciting idea that should capture the imagination of Queenslanders not yet quite willing to believe the hosting rights decision is now just weeks away.

State Cabinet's discovery that the Gabba redevelopment could be done for pretty well the same price of a new stadium on the trots track at Albion is a game-changer.

The motivation for The Courier-Mail's strong advocacy for Queensland's bid for the 2032 Games has been the opportunity to deliver legacy infrastructure that otherwise would not have been built - things like a better rail service to the Sunshine Coast, sporting facilities in the regions, and yes a grand new state-of-the-art stadium for the state's capital.

The announcement today that redeveloping the Gabba is the State Government's preferred course of action is therefore a sensible one.

Revitalising the Gabba would ensure the iconic venue which has struggled to compete with other stadiums in recent years remains competitive into the future.

An artists impression of what a transformed Gabba would look like.
An artists impression of what a transformed Gabba would look like.

The Gabba's last major overhaul - which included the construction of a grandstand to lift the stadium's capacity to 42,000 - was finished in 2005. Since that time Perth's $1.4bn Optus Stadium has been constructed and the Adelaide Oval has been redeveloped - representing twin threats to the ageing Gabba's position as one of the nation's top cricket venues.

We saw this play out in 2018 when the Gabba lost its traditional hosting rights to the first Test of the summer to Adelaide, with then-Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland quoted at the time as saying the venue had "slipped down the rankings" of Test stadiums.

Upgrading an existing facility rather than building an entirely new one is also in keeping with the International Olympic Committee's new push to avoid saddling host cities with costly white elephants, as seen in former host cities such as Athens and Rio de Janeiro.

While a 50,000-seat capacity new venue at Albion was the alternative option proposed in the original bid, it is difficult to imagine who would use such a facility after the Olympics was over.

The argument has been that the Albion development would, post-Games, form part of a sport and recreation precinct to complement the neighbouring facilities at Allan Border Field and Crosby Park.

But if we take a breath, it is hard to justify the need in Brisbane for either another 50,000-seat oval stadium, a 30,000-seat rectangular stadium, or a 20,000-seat athletics venue - the three proposed "legacy" options for the site. We already have the QSAC facility for athletics at Nathan (and hardly need another), Ballymore and Dolphin Oval at Redcliffe for second-tier rugby league, union and soccer - and we have the Gabba for the cricket and AFL.

An artist’s impression of an Olympic event at the Gabba.
An artist’s impression of an Olympic event at the Gabba.

What is proposed for the Gabba redevelopment is also an elegant solution. The massive new public plaza over Main St linking the stadium to the new underground Cross River Rail station would not only fix the Gabba's biggest issue of crowd disbursement but also mean the ground is just three minutes from the CBD (compare that to 30 minutes for the Sydney stadium at Homebush). The proposed use of nearby Raymond Park as the warm-up track (linked to the stadium for the duration of the Olympics via a 400m-long covered walkway along Duke St) is also a masterstroke - as that deals with the other big issue for the Gabba, that it is surrounded by existing homes.

While regrettably there would inevitably be some resumptions, the proposal appears to keep these to a minimum. The construction of the plaza would work for locals, as it would ease traffic congestion and stop spectators from spilling onto roads before and after matches.

Admittedly, the Albion option on a greenfield site would be less disruptive for local residents and closer to the proposed athletes village at Hamilton. But Brisbane needs a venue that is fit-for-purpose for a generation, not just for two weeks while the Olympics is on.

The Courier-Mail therefore backs the Gabba redevelopment. This is our once-only opportunity for a world-class cricket and AFL stadium that our capital city deserves. So long as the business case stacks up, the redevelopment of the Gabba will deliver the best outcome for Queensland. And that is what we should all be supporting.

Originally published as A stadium we can all enjoy - even after the Olympics