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Dream big . . . Olympic silver medallist New Zealand shooter Natalie Rooney, Waimate-born rugby player Billy Guyton and Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley cut the ribbon at the Waimate Event Centre opening in 2016. PHOTO: SHARYN CAIN

In December 2016, the Waimate Event Centre officially opened its doors to the public. As calls for an indoor stadium in Oamaru get louder, Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson looks at the impact Waimate’s facility has had on the South Canterbury community.

Like anything proposed by the council, building the Waimate Event Centre generated a lot of controversy, Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley says.

The old stadium was past its use-by date, and many in the South Canterbury town saw a need to build a new one.

Others did not see why they had to pay for something they did not think they would get any use from.

But the project had been an “absolute success”, Mr Rowley said.

“It is getting used a lot more than what we thought it would. I have had several people come up to me and say they were against it before it was built but are now absolutely in favour of it.

“I have had a lot of feedback from people who have shifted to the town and said one of the things they took into account when they shifted here was that we have a new event centre.

“There are still a few people around the district who will never be in favour of it, particularly from the outer-lying areas.

“There was a lot of talk about rural people not using it, but our statistics show it is used just as much by the rural community as it is by the ones in town.”

It took about 10 years from when the topic was first broached to when the event centre was approved, and formal planning to completion took about two years, Mr Rowley said.

The council approached Waimate businessman Gary Rooney for support and his company, Rooney Group, project-managed the build.

The Waimate District Council contributed $2.85 million, which was funded by a loan being repaid through the targeted rate, and $950,000 was contributed from community-raised funds.

The balance of the project was met by Mr Rooney. His contribution remains an undisclosed sum.

“We sat down together and worked through the design, which had some very good outcomes, because a lot of the time when people think they are dealing with a local or central government they can put the price at what they like,” Mr Rowley said.

“When you have a businessman basically building it for you, I think he got a sharp deal on the contractors and that sort of thing.”

In 2017, user numbers were 20,366. That rose to 23,984 in 2018 and from January to June this year, hit 13,094.

The stadium is set up for wall climbing, netball, basketball, tennis, squash, indoor bowls, table tennis, in-line skating and badminton. It is also home to the Waimate Gym and is used by social and community services for cultural, sporting, educational and recreational purposes and for private and corporate functions.

Centre supervisor Peter Vendetti, who described his role as a “jack of all trades”, said use of the centre had “grown and grown” over the past three years.

“From March through to August the courts are pretty much booked up every night, and the climbing wall is very popular,” he said.

“There is always something happening here.”

Anzac Day services at the stadium had attracted crowds of about 600 people, who were all able to be seated, Mr Vendetti said.

The centre is also widely used by local sports clubs.

Before it opened, the Waimate Netball Club played its games outside at Victoria Park.

President Vanessa Morgan said the club had some reservations about moving into the stadium but “it would be hard to go back” to playing outdoors in winter.

“We still pay rates at Victoria Park, but we still use that during the summer and for some of our junior netball,” she said.

The club played senior netball indoors and the number of senior teams had grown from five to 12.

Fees remained affordable and life members enjoyed being able to watch games in the warmth of the stadium, she said.

Waimate Kiwisport co-ordinator Raewyn Williams said the centre had been the “best thing ever” for sport in the town.

“It is great for the kids. Over the next few weeks we have a programme of tennis, badminton, squash, bowls and a couple of other games, so they get a bit of room to do what they want to do.”

The facilities had encouraged more children to get involved in sport, especially in the winter.

“It is warm and tidy. Every kid will know where the Waimate stadium is now.”

In July, Waimate District Council community and strategy group manager Carolyn Johns reported that the centre hosted a national sports team for the first time – the New Zealand under-19 handball team came for a training session in June and “went away very impressed with the facility and have since inquired about booking for another training session”.

She said it was also encouraging to see bookings by “corporates holding courses and team-building exercises”.

Ms Johns said the cost for the building for the 2019-20 year was $218,827, or $59 per ratepayer.

“This is a targeted rate which is set on a uniform basis and is assessed on the district-wide number of ‘separately used or inhabited parts of a rating unit’, as per council’s definition,” she said. “The rate collected fully funds the principal and interest repayments on borrowings.”

Operational costs for the 2019-20 year have been forecast as $296,837. These are funded by general rates and also incorporate the Waimate Information Centre.

It is expected 70% of the operational costs will be funded by ratepayers and 30% by users.

The capital value of the centre is listed at $5.85 million.

“In general we are extremely pleased with the performance of the event centre. It has been well utilised by existing and new groups ranging from schools, to seniors, small business to corporates, health organisations to family birthday parties,” Ms Johns said.

The school holiday programmes were always in demand and there was capacity to take more bookings, she said.

The council has employed a new marketing and promotions officer, part of whose role will be marketing of the centre.