The AFL unveiled its bold, but unfunded, ambitions for the redevelopment of Etihad Stadium at the June 16 Docklands Networking Lunch.
The league revealed proposals that would see the stadium transformed into “the Federation Square of the West”. AFL national venues manager Simon Gorr said: “We want it to be a centre for sport, for entertainment, technology and community – all here in the urban setting of Docklands.” Mr Gorr said the league was seeking funding from the State Government and, if successful within 12 months, the stadium could be transformed within the following three to five years.
Apart from upgrades within the stadium, major changes are envisaged outside and, in particular, along Harbour Esplanade. The AFL wants to build a 60-metre, at least 11-storey retail, ballroom and hotel complex overlooking Victoria Harbour. He said the league believed it was not taking full advantage of its office location on Harbour Esplanade.
“To have a two-storey office on probably the best site in Victoria Harbour is probably under-utilising the asset,” Mr Gorr said. “So what we want to do is create a great gateway building for Melbourne.”
The AFL proposes a 1500-seat, column-free ballroom on level three, overlooking the harbour. “We think Melbourne needs another venue of this size and scale,” he said. “It will never get built out and it will have amazing views of the water. It could be the new home of the Brownlow.” Above that, he said, would be an eight-storey, 272-room hotel – topped off with Melbourne's best rooftop bar.
On the long-awaited redevelopment of Harbour Esplanade itself, Mr Gorr was relatively quiet, other than to say: “We want to take better advantage of the great views here and activate the waterfront, which is a key goal of government.” He presented a slide showing a raised circular boardwalk spanning the roadway and tramlines, with a swimming pool in the south basin of Victoria Harbour – a location earmarked for commuter ferries in the master plan. He described the image as “an architect’s dream” and a “thought starter”. In answer to a question, Mr Gorr later said the AFL was aware of the master plan and was working closely with Development Victoria.
On the railway side of the stadium, the league is proposing an elaborate new “front door”, comprising a multi-level “pod” which triples its hospitality areas and includes food and beverage outlets “for all price points”.
Outside, the league is proposing a new foot-bridge across Wurrundjeri Way to link patrons more easily from Southern Cross Station. In a later stage, the plan is for a pedestrian bridge from Lonsdale St and even roofing over the railway lines. “We think this connectivity piece is absolutely essential – not just for our business but for all the businesses of Docklands,” Mr Gorr said.
Mr Gorr spoke of transforming the stadium concourse into a “Sports Line”, a reference to New York’s urban development High Line project. “Coming down from Southern Cross Station, we want to create a terrific public realm with a dynamic range of things to do. Lots of pause points. Retail. Food and beverage. Stuff for kids to do. A tourist attraction in its own right,” he said.
At the southern end of the ground he talked about a new “town square” with an amphitheatre, a “curated” food court and seven day a week trading.
Like the rest of the redevelopment, the target audience for this offer are young people and new millennials.
The LaTrobe St end of the ground is reserved for young families, with artificial grass, sports and play equipment – “ a green zone … somewhere to take your shoes and socks off”. Mr Gorr said the final mix of community activities was not determined. “But we certainly know that there is a need in the community for this,” he said. Mr Gorr said: “We feel a sense of responsibility to make our stadium and the precinct the best it can possibly be.”
Originally published in Docklands News