$20m to create a field of dreams

A LARGER EnergyAustralia Stadium would be the centrepiece of an overhauled Newcastle sporting precinct and could position the city to bid for World Cup soccer games, Premier Morris Iemma said yesterday.

Mr Iemma visited the stadium with Sports Minister Graham West and Newcastle MP Jodi McKay to confirm a $20 million State Government grant for the new western grandstand.

Mr Iemma said a new western grandstand would give EnergyAustralia a seated capacity of 33,000, while temporary seats at either end would take it to 40,000, big enough for football World Cup games should Australia win the race to host the event in 2018.

"I was with FIFA president Sepp Blatter last night and I let him know last night about our plans for the stadium," Mr Iemma said.

"They were thinking there were two stadiums in NSW capable of holding World Cup matches but I said hang on, there's a third one and it's in a city just under two hours north of Sydney called Newcastle and it's going to have a state-of-the-art stadium there."

The additional $20 million takes the State Government's pledges on the western grandstand to $50 million, together with $10 million from federal Labor. The State also put $32 million into the eastern grandstand, the Andrew Johns stand.

Mr West said the funding was part of a broader policy that would help realise the Broadmeadow site's huge redevelopment potential.

It involved winding up the Newcastle International Sports Centre Trust and the Newcastle Showground and Exhibition Centre Trust and replacing them with a new Hunter Region Sporting Venues Authority.

Mr West said the laws relating to these trusts would be repealed and replaced by a single piece of legislation, the Sporting Venues Authorities Act.

The Bill had passed the Legislative Assembly and was before the upper house, which was yet to vote on it.

"I think both trusts have tried to do a good job but it makes sense to connect the two up," Mr West said.

"I don't think the duplication has been helpful."

Earlier efforts to attract developers to the site had come to little, but Mr West said its potential was obvious.

The new seven-person Hunter authority would work with the recently formed Hunter Development Corporation to manage the showground land and all of the sporting fields except the tennis courts, which were under a separate organisation.

Hunter sports centre trust chairman Ted Atchison welcomed the new authority and said he expected the Government's seven appointees to be dominated by local business people.

Mr Atchison said he had put his name forward but did not know if he would be on the authority.

He said building the western grandstand was a bigger job than the eastern one because it had more facilities and involved a major demolition.

It would not be finished until the end of 2010 because the builders had to work around game days.

"With the Knights drawing about 20,000 and the Jets 15,000 we should be able to cope with the loss of 4000 or 5000 seats because of construction without much trouble," Mr Atchison said.

He said there was little "off season" between the Jets and the Knights to do the work without interruption.

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