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Waitaki App

Event centre change leaves some 'elated', others 'disappointed'

Waitaki App

Ashley Smyth

30 May 2024, 2:24 AM

Event centre change leaves some 'elated', others 'disappointed'A decision to revise the Network Waitaki Event Centre floor plan has left North Otago Tennis disappointed. Graphic: Supplied

Tennis players in North Otago remain out in the cold for now, with a floor-plan change for the Network Waitaki Event Centre.


Following a lengthy debate at Tuesday’s Waitaki District Council meeting, the decision has been made that in order to maximise usage and profitability of the centre, six wooden sprung floors in the planned indoor sports facility is the way forward.



An initial council-approved plan was for four wooden sprung courts, and two synthetic courts. This has been modified, after further consultation with Sport Otago, Dunedin’s Edgar Centre, and other sports centres around the country.


The synthetic courts were to allow for tennis, and other non-sporting events, so the change means the planned centre will no longer be suitable for tennis.


The council voted in December last year to approve the four/two flooring option, with the design and build contract signed between Apollo Projects and Waitaki District Council earlier this month.


Since the original agreement on the requirements, partly based on a study conducted in 2021, the thinking and evidence of usage by sports in other centres has changed, council acting assets group manager Paul Hope told the meeting.


“The main reasons for that, is that the board believes that this will actually meet a wider range of recreation users and . . . really sort of increase the effective capacity of the facility, both in terms of numbers and other sports, particularly emerging sports.”


Event Centre Project Board member Doug Hurst, a long-time representative tennis player, said tennis is “extremely well catered for court-wise throughout North Otago”, so an indoor facility would really only be for bad weather days.


“From an income perspective, from a council point of view, unfortunately, it just doesn't stack up as a financial investment in this project, as well,” he said.


Fellow board member Adair Craik said the number of people who would use the facility for tennis was estimated at one percent of the total users for a one-year period.


“So it's really tricky, and none of us like having to have this conversation . . . but we have to be practical  about the number of people who would use the facility, and in comparison to the larger sports, which are massively tens of thousands of people over a period of a year.”


Sports such as futsal, pickleball and floorball are also increasing in popularity in other centres around the country, with 8000 now playing futsal at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin. The Edgar Centre is moving towards converting more of its courts to wooden sprung floors, she said.


“I think we have to look to the future, we can't hold to the past, and the future of sports is indoors on wooden floors. And that is the information we've had time and time again from all the centres we've been involved in up and down the country.”


As a concession to Tennis North Otago, the Event Centre Trust has offered to support fundraising for a separate all-weather tennis facility, the costs of which are yet to be investigated.


The contract between Apollo Projects and the Waitaki District Council for the design and build of the Network Waitaki Event Centre was signed earlier this month. Photo: supplied


The cost of two more sprung floors will be an extra $50,000. Alternatively it would cost $170,000 for an option to place infrastructure underneath the synthetic courts, for a potential conversion to timber courts at a later date, which did not make economic sense, Mr Hope said.


Councillor Jim Hopkins was extremely vocal about his reluctance for the change in the floor plan, and wanted it recorded that he voted against it.


“I'm angry about the way this has been done.  The council voted . . . in December to go four and two, and all we have had subsequently has been a persistent small lobby group that's chosen to actually work behind the scenes,” he said.


He questioned how it could be “construed as acting in the global interests of sport generally” if upwards of 460 Waitaki tennis players are not being taken into account with the change of plans.


Councillor Tim Blackler also voted against, while Cr Rebecca Ryan abstained due to a conflict of interest as president of North Otago Tennis.


Winners and losers

North Otago Tennis vice president Belinda Hirst says, following the decision, they are disappointed not to be included in the centre plans, but more by the “lack of a detailed analysis than the council vote”.


Being part of the centre would have been “an invaluable resource”, allowing them to play and train any day of the week, day or night, in all seasons.

 

All of our members, junior through to masters, including representatives, national team members, and champions, face a critical shortage of training and playing facilities for seven months each year, hindering their performance and development,” Belinda says.


The argument that fewer people would be using a court, and therefore generating less income, is flawed - the cost to hire the court will be the same, it will just be split by more people for sports like netball or basketball, she says.


“Tennis players are used to paying more when at events/tournaments at other centres, like the Edgar Centre. 


“There are many missed opportunities that weren’t explored in the information provided; masters players or mid-week ladies throughout the day, coaching opportunities involving 18 people per court, night play, business leagues and night tournaments.”

 

While the offer from the event centre trust to assist in fundraising for a separate all-weather tennis facility is appreciated, the reality is they still have $4m to raise for the event centre itself and an additional $4-5m for the grandstand, as their priorities, Belinda says.


“Tennis needs to act now to future-proof the sport and cater for its growth, having waited long enough under the impression that it would be included in the event centre — based on the original business case and the December council decision.”


North Otago Basketball and North Otago Netball, on the other hand, are both “extremely happy” with the decision.


Basketball association co-president Mike Turner says they are “elated”.


“We spent some time over the last few months, really pushing for the six wooden courts because of the growth of  basketball. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the country this year.”


There are more than 60 teams entered in the local school-age competition, from years 3 to 13, which is close to 600 players, he says.  


“These six wooden courts are going to be essential.” 


Not only will it make running the local competitions easier, it will also enable the venue to hold national tournaments.


“You can't run it across two synthetic and four wooden,” Mike says.


“Now we have the option, we will get national secondary school competitions in Oamaru. It's gonna be great.”  


Netball association president Kim Neill says they believe this decision has captured the widest possible needs of the community.


“We are very excited to get everyone playing netball indoors year-round . . . and to be able to continue in the growth within our sport and bring tournaments and revenue to our community.”