Daily Archives: July 22, 2008

When is a fact not a fact?

(I am loath to get into this debate, for shouting at each other will never achieve anything, however the posts from the anti-stadium people here has been more than reasonable and I feel that we won’t fall into the trap of being offended and start slinging mud at each other)

Quite simply when it is an opinion. This is the case with the fine folk over at Stop the Stadium with the 10 point ‘facts’ of the stadium, that we supposedly didn’t know about. I wish to look at these ‘facts’ and put my spin on them.

1: {opinion} “We predict the real average cost per household is a minimum of $268 per year for 20 years.” This is your prediction, the other side have their own, these are not irrefutable facts, they are opinions based upon assumptions, which as we know in economics is never without ideological bias.

2: {Fact} The escalating cost of steel. “Do you know that the Stadium design has already been modified because of rising costs?” This is a good thing isn’t it. They have demonstrated an ability to be flexible in the face of rising costs (out of anyone but the Chinese quest for development hands). To be able to meet this challenge is a good thing, not a perceived negative ‘fact’. Yes the cost of steel has risen, quite sharply too, but that hasn’t forced the mass closure of developments globally. Indeed, the history of development will always illustrate the costs in historical context. If this stadium was built 20 years ago it would have been half the cost, or if it is built in 20 years’ time, it would possibly cost twice as much. This is never the reason not to do things.

[Update: It has been suggested by the STS that the CST has in fact pre-purchased the steel for the construction. This would suggest that they have signed a set agreed price, akin to locking stock in at a futures market. If true, again this is a good thing, in that the global price of steel looks forecast to continue to climb. Just today the global economic outlook has been upgraded, with Asia looking at 4.4% + growth. Asia is the world construction hot spot, and thus is pushing the price of steel up.]

3: {opinion} University involvement. Regardless of the perception, the reality is that the University will be economically and institutionally involved in this project. I would argue that only those opposed to this development would see the involvement of the singularly largest economic institution in the southern half of the island as a bad thing. I would rather have them buying land and being involved in this in any way shape or form, than not.

4: {opinion} Students to Dunedin: Quite possibly, do you know for a fact? The university and the government do have funding models and it is well known that the university is looking at the path of an ‘Oxford’ or ‘Harvard’ of the south, with restrictions on courses to get the cream of the crop. The STS (Stop the Stadium) view on this is opinion, not fact. There is nothing in the statutes to stop the role of Otago rising, however, looking to become more elite by having world class facilities at its disposal is never going to be a negative thing. Every major North American university and college have sporting programmes and stadiums (almost better than anything in Australasia), why shouldn’t Otago? The issue isn’t that Otago can’t afford more students. Why is it then that Otago just launched a brand new advertising campaign to attract more students south (good adverts by the way). Whichever way University of Otago goes with its funding model (more students or elitism) is up to Otago and the Government of the day, but does not preclude involvement in this development, opinion does.

5: {opinion} Stadium Functionality: This cannot be known until the stadium is built. Even in the peer review documents, which were cautionary (as they should be) they did not state that the stadium should not go ahead or include multifaceted uses – it signalled caution. As stated throughout the threads in this post, to assume, on the whim of journalists with a paper to push and a couple of promoters from the north, that there won’t be concerts and events at this building is defeatist in the least. This is opinion at best, negative at worst. If we are to assume that the stadium is for a dozen games of rugby a year, this development should stop here and now! I on the other hand assume that the people running the business will look to make money out of this and the way to do that is include as many varied uses as possible. I will always feel that this stadium will only fail if management is remiss in doing the singular role for which it was appointed, make money. But also three years out from completion I think it is unreasonable of the STS to demand to know who will be using the stadium from day one, exceedingly so.

6: {opinion} Budget: Why not, and if they do run over budget, really (it’s actually budgeted for)? The international ability of HOK Sports has been proven globally, if they can’t get a project in on budget, there are very few who can. Indeed, there is evidence of developments (sporting or otherwise) on this scale coming in on budget, within the allowable overflow, or even below budget. “Some experts are saying costs could double” is an expression of opinion not fact. This could simply be taken as other experts suggest that costs could be within budget. Opinion not fact.

7: {opinion} “Membership fee: Experts in the field say that contracts like this are all but impossible to pin down.” Your experts say this. There is plenty of evidence which show civil engineering developments (as this is) have penalties built into them. It’s a standard commercial imperative in most parts of the world. There are penalties if costs over run, if time frames are not met and so on. These are simply commercial realities. This is also a matter for the developers, contractors and lawyers to agree on. If they don’t build in penalties that is their choice, but I would be very doubtful (again opinion) if this isn’t done. We are not talking about cowboy development with crooks, there are some fine international reputations at stake here – and don’t think there aren’t. $188m is not a small amount of money, and no-one is going to be lackadaisical with it. Again this is the opinion of some, not a fact, and there is nothing in physics or economics that means penalties can’t be included in final costs, these haven’t been contractually agreed upon yet.

8: {opinion} The Moana pool comparison is a fair one to make. Because by the opinion of the STS, this will not be a multi-use facility which is open to public use day in day out. Others disagree entirely. This is opinion and not fact by the STS. I say it’s a valid comparison to make, others don’t, this does not mean this is a non-refutable fact. However, to assume that it will be open every day of the year to the public is also being disingenuous. Of course it won’t be. I wasn’t around when Moana was built, but was the Crèche / day care centre part of the original development. I watched last year the development of the new offices and gymnasium in the building, these surely weren’t planned from day one. Buildings, structures and uses evolve (look at the British Museum), why can’t the new stadium.

9: {opinion} Economic prosperity or the death nail in Dunners: Again opinion not fact. Fill a room with 100 economists, 20 will say this, 20 will say that and the other 60 will be somewhere in between. I go with the view that if this development is a success, then the rates relief and economic prosperity of the city can only be a positive thing – but again that is an opinion (possibly supported by some economists somewhere).

10: {opinion} He said – she said, with respect to the numbers. Or I’ll show you my poll and you can show me your poll. Again this is opinion. How is it that after the ORC announced that the people opposed to the stadium at public hearings outnumbered those for the development, that very afternoon the ORC was flooded (literally) with hundreds of emails in support of the stadium. Even if we take up the academics’ offer of a poll of the people, this again is an opinion, of some but not all of the people. And quite frankly I don’t trust the people of Dunedin to put anything other than a tartan tea cosy on a park bench to call it a party (whoops, sorry strong opinion – did I bite?). Council is elected to take the city forward and ensure the economic prosperity of the place, while providing for social and cultural diversity and development. I don’t believe for one minute that this development will preclude the council from undertaking other projects, or for that matter for others to come in and develop in this city. I have no doubt that people are against this project in big numbers, as I have no doubt that there are equally large numbers of supporters, those who shout the loudest are not necessarily in the right. I don’t think (unless in the exceedingly unlikely event that it was +90% against) that council should necessarily take heed of such a poll. Council is elected to take bold and brave decisions and in my opinion this is one they must take.

As stated, I am exceedingly happy that the STS people have come here to debate the issues. I started the blog as a place to discuss design and architecture (and support the stadium). I don’t like the design, but then I support Canterbury and don’t like Red and Black, I can live with it. I have opinions of where this development will take Dunedin, others have their opinions. Of the ten points above, however, only one (the cost of steel) is factual, the rest of the fears and concerns of the STS are opinions (valid or not), not factual redress of the development.

Good luck with the meeting tonight, sorry I can’t make it. I hope that all are civil (IMHO I doubt it very much – there are always idiots on both sides), and that concerns are worked through. Of course I hope that you people fail in your ultimate goal, I pray that this development goes ahead. However, through the scrutiny and concerns of the likes of the STS there is the possibility that a more rigorous development will be undertaken. The STS point to the $11m and time taken already by the DCC and ORC as a bad thing. I tend to think (opinion) that this isn’t a light task and I would rather see them spend $30m and say no with valid reasons than spend no money at all planning and say yes to this project. {As stated I will post about the Vancouver Whitecaps Stadium development, which so far has been many many years in the planning. This is a very good comparison to study and one which we can learn much from.}

As the developers are among some of the finest in the world, responsible for some of the best stadiums (and other civil and commercial developments) anywhere, I just can’t see how this development can be viewed by many as a ‘mickey mouse folly’. HOK sports will not put their name to a development that is doomed to fail (opinion yes, but also commercial imperative).

Posted by Paul Le Comte

35 Comments

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