As Marvel Stadium turns 20 this week, the evolution of the Docklands venue remains a mystery, with the AFL yet to announce detailed plans for its redevelopment.
The Australian Football League, which owns the 56,000-capacity multi-purpose stadium, secured $225 million in taxpayer funds two years ago, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing since then.
It was reported recently that the league had quietly parted ways with the high-profile project’s chief architect. Clubs will be updated on the AFL’s plans on the eve of the season.
The Andrews Government committed the $225m in April 2018 in exchange for a guarantee that the AFL grand final stays in Melbourne until 2057.
Following media reports, the AFL announced on their website that the league would unveil plans for the major redevelopment masterplan “within the next eight weeks”.
Concept plans have been released in the past which would make the stadium a seven-day a week destination. It would be developed in three stages, starting with the city side, while a hotel, rooftop bar and ballroom to rival Crown Palladium would replace the water side currently occupied by AFL House. Initial concepts didn’t include any plans to change the seating bowl, with the majority of work behind the seats and beyond the stadium itself.
AFL CEO Gill McLachlan recently visited the USA on a week-long trip touring the country’s best sporting stadiums including the recently revamped LA Memorial Stadium used by the Los Angeles Rams NFL team, in search of concepts for the redevelopment of Marvel Stadium. New project director Matthew Chun and the AFL’s head of strategy also made the trip.
Chun, a former CEO of Becton Property Group and Simonds Homes, was hired to help oversee the Docklands redevelopment late last year following significant changes to the stadium redevelopment department within the AFL.
However, the league is yet to fill a new executive position announced four months ago to drive the ongoing integration and redevelopment of Marvel Stadium. Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell was tapped for the job but knocked it back.
It comes as Marvel Stadium turns 20. The Docklands venue hosted its first event on March 9, 2000 – an AFL match between Essendon and Port Adelaide in which the Bombers won by 94 points in front of 43,012 fans.
There have been 930 home and away season clashes since and plenty of other sport and major events including rugby league, union, soccer, cricket, motorsport and even basketball.
Colonial Stadium, as it was called when it opened, was designed to be a ‘pre-purchase ticket venue’ only, however in its first year there were not enough ticket windows and entrances, leading to exceptionally long queues, delays and inconvenience for fans, especially those there on opening night. Issues were fixed along the way, thanks to the arrival of Ian Collins as CEO in mid-2000. Additional temporary ticket boxes were built to assist fans in purchasing tickets on game day and other tweaks were made. The stadium was even designed without coaches boxes.
The turf wasn’t ready for the first game, and it continued to be an issue for years to come. The stadium’s roof also has caused frustration for many and continues to do so.
The venue became Telstra Dome, then Etihad Stadium, and now Marvel Stadium. Over the journey, it has come a long way and seems to be more popular now than the early days. There’s no doubt level two remains the best view of watching AFL matches.
The redevelopment will no doubt take Marvel Stadium to the next level and revitalise the entire Docklands precinct – something that is much needed.