State's $20m grand stand

PREMIER Morris Iemma will announce $20 million in funding for EnergyAustralia Stadium today, allowing the $60 million western grandstand to be rebuilt and the stadium completed with a capacity of 33,000.

The $20 million was in addition to the $30 million the NSW Government committed before last year's state election, the Premier's spokeswoman said.

It follows the Rudd Government committing $10 million in this month's budget.

Mr Iemma and Newcastle MP Jodi McKay will announce the new funding at the stadium at 8.45am today.

It comes after years of lobbying from local politicians and representatives of the Newcastle Knights and Newcastle Jets and refusals from the former Howard government.

Mr Iemma's original $30 million promise came when the Howard government was in power and on condition that it match the amount.

But with Labor having won power federally, the NSW Government has agreed to pay $50 million towards the project.

The State Government also paid the entire $32 million cost to build the eastern grandstand, completed in 2005.

Hunter International Sports Centre Trust chairman Ted Atchison said yesterday the new western grandstand would be completed by the end of 2010, giving the stadium a capacity of 33,000, up from 26,000.

Mr Atchison said construction could be done without affecting attendances at Jets' and Knights' games.

"Certain areas will be out of action because they will be construction zones, but we don't believe that will affect crowd figures," he said.

"We can accommodate the crowds they've been getting while we do various stages."

The work would be done in four stages, he said.

Work began on the $7 million first stage in December with money that had already been committed.

To be completed next month, it includes two dressing rooms, a warm-up room, medical rooms, showers, toilets, ice baths and an 855-seat spectator concourse in the stadium's south-west.

The second stage will replicate stage one at the north-west end and include rebuilding the grandstand's lower concourse.

A development application for stages three and four will be lodged with Newcastle City Council by the year's end.

Stage three comprises constructing the stadium's two end pieces and stage four removing the back of the grandstand and rebuilding it from ground to roof level with a new roof.

"The old western grandstand will be completely demolished," Mr Atchison said.

Once the work is complete, Newcastle will be in a strong position to host international soccer matches and boost Australia's bids for major soccer tournaments including the 2015 Asian Cup and 2018 World Cup.

Ms McKay said she had been lobbying to see the stadium complete and was excited about today's announcement.

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