The AFL has intensified its raid into the rugby league heartland of western Sydney with plans to redevelop the Sydney Showground at Olympic Park into a $100 million "boutique stadium" for its proposed second Sydney team.
Former NSW premier Morris Iemma provided a $40,000 grant to the AFL in April to undertake a concept plan to re-develop the showground, a spokeswoman for the Premier, Nathan Rees, said.
It was revealed in February a new AFL team would be established in Sydney by 2012. Under the initial plan, the team's headquarters and training venue would be at Blacktown Olympic Park, which is undergoing a $27.5 million redevelopment to increase its capacity to 10,000.
It was initially believed the second team would play its home games at ANZ Stadium, but the AFL is looking to stage the team's non-blockbuster games next door at the showground. Having a smaller, purpose-built ground would provide a more intimate football experience for AFL fans and prove more cost effective, sources close to the plan said. There had been concerns in AFL circles about the lack of atmosphere at ANZ Stadium coinciding with a readjustment of the initial crowd size that would support a second Sydney team. It is understood the Swans have given their approval in principle to the second team having the showground as its home. AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said the concept plan for "the possible redevelopment of the showground into a multi-purpose boutique stadium would be finished "pretty soon".
"At this point, there's been no request from us for any funding for any redevelopment and there's no government commitment (to fund it)," he said.
The NSW government rejected plans to extend the nearby exhibition halls adjacent to the showground in its mini-budget this week.
Peter King, the chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society, which operates the showground site, said if the proposed redevelopment was approved, it would increase game-day capacity from about 13,500 to about 25,000.
The showground would continue to cater for an array of events. King said Twenty20 cricket games "would be a great option" there. He estimated the cost of redeveloping the site to be between $50 million and $100 million. The playing surface would be improved and expanded and new corporate boxes would be constructed.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust has put its $94 million plan to demolish and replace the ageing Bradman and MA Noble Stands on hold until it can secure funding.
The trust had hoped to begin tearing down the stands early next year so it could redevelop the space before England comes to Australia for the Ashes series in 2010-11.