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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Clubs reveal the goal of new ground

IF YOU want to know about the feel-good factor that comes with a new football stadium, ask a Brighton and Hove Albion supporter.

Brighton’s spanking-new, all-seater, 22,500-capacity Amex Stadium opened at the start of this season.

The team made a dream start in the Championship and average attendances have soared to 20,154, which is amazing when only two years ago the average was 6,466 in League One.

Brighton have a sugar daddy in the shape of chairman Tony Bloom who provided a £93m interest-free loan.

Other clubs – Hull City and Colchester United are examples – have the benefit of stadiums paid for by their respective local councils.

Carlisle United don’t have a wealthy backer with money to burn and the days of local authority largesse are long gone, so the Blues must do it the hard way.

Just like Morecambe of League Two. Last season the Shrimps left Christie Park, their home for 89 years, for the £8m Globe Arena.

Its 6,476 capacity, of which only 2,247 are seated, is more modest than Carlisle United’s proposal for a 12,000 all-seater stadium at Kingmoor Park, but the thought process Morecambe followed is similar.

Like Carlisle, they looked at redeveloping their ground but found the figures didn’t stack up.

Morecambe tried to sell Christie Park for housing, only for Tesco and Sainsbury’s to show interest and bid against each other – Sainsbury’s eventually secured the site for a 40,000 sq ft supermarket.

Brian Fagan, an executive director at Morecambe, said: “We were very, fortunate.

“Having two supermarkets competing with each other more than doubled the price we expected to get.

“Even so, the money we got from Sainsbury’s didn’t cover the cost of the development.

The shortfall was in the region of 25 per cent.” Club chairman Peter McGuigan put in the rest.

A supermarket was also the key to Chesterfield’s move from Saltergate to the £13.5m, 10,600-capacity, all-seater B2net Stadium.

In a deal brokered by Chesterfield Borough Council, Tesco bought the site of a former glassworks, gave 10 acres to the football club and built a Tesco Extra superstore on the rest.

Club spokesman Geoff Mitchell said: “The council were very, very helpful. They came up with the site. We couldn’t afford to buy it at a commercial rate but they got the supermarket to come in and buy the lot.”

Chesterfield still had to fund the build. Around £2m-£3m will come from the sale of Saltergate for housing, the club received a £2.4m grant from the Football League, while majority shareholder Dave Allen is reported to have pumped in £4m by buying shares and provided more in loans.

The Spireites are thriving with average gates up from 3,967 to 6,972 while conference and hospitality facilities bring more income.

Of course, Tesco didn’t give the club land out of the goodness of its heart.

The deal was what planners called “enabling development”, the phrase bandied about for Carlisle United’s proposed move to Kingmoor Park.

Enabling development is defined as “development that secures the future of a significant place but is contrary to established planning policy”.

In other words, Tesco would never have won planning permission for a supermarket had the scheme not secured a new stadium for Chesterfield FC.

It may even contribute towards the stadium’s construction costs.

Carlisle City Council declined to comment on what sorts of enabling development might be allowed at Kingmoor Park – council officers are fearful of ‘prejudicing’ any future planning application.

Neither the club nor Kingmoor Park is saying what form of enabling development they have in mind.

However, club managing director John Nixon gave an insight into their thinking at a press conference at Brunton Park yesterday.

He said: “Clubs that have got new stadiums have usually done it on, for example, a supermarket coming in and enabling them to pay for that. Enablement comes in that sort of area.

“But it’s not our area of expertise. We’ve had to find a partner and we’ve found a partner [Kingmoor Park] who is now looking at the various ways we can do it.”

He added: “We don’t want to take any of the funds away from Carlisle United to spend on a stadium. That’s probably utopia at the end of the day but you’ve got to start with that aim.

“We’re sitting on assets here [Brunton Park] of about £6m.

“We couldn’t justifiably say as directors to the shareholders that we’ve given that away and we’ve now got nothing, and we’re just renting the stadium. The stadium would need to belong to Carlisle United.

“The biggest pitfall in the past with some clubs has been to go into a municipal stadium provided by the city, and it’s a rent or a lease. That then gives you a burden year-in, year-out.

“Plymouth Argyle have gone out of administration, sold the stadium to the city and are now renting it back, so they have to find £200,000 and £300,000 a year before they kick a ball.

“The big thing is not to go for a big glossy stadium that belongs to someone else and then pay rent. It’s better to make sure it belongs to us as Brunton Park does.”

Part of the sale proceeds from Brunton Park would be used to clear the club’s debts, principally a loan from former owner Fred Story. The rest would be available to strengthen the team and invest in the new stadium.

United have not revealed how the development would be paid for.

All they will say is that it would cost no more than the £18.2m needed to bring Brunton Park up to scratch for Championship football.

Not all clubs have chosen to move in order to update. Preston North End, for example, completely redeveloped Deepdale over 15 years. The project was the brainchild of former chairman Bryan Gray who went on to lead the Carlisle Renaissance initiative. He said: “When I took over as chairman [of Preston North End] in 1994, there was a thought that we should relocate to a new stadium in the docklands area of Preston.

“My view was that we’d always been at Deepdale and there was a historical significance in that site.”

The phased redevelopment was paid for by floating North End on the Alternative Investment Market, a junior version of the stockmarket, a subsequent bond issue and the sale of star players. Initially, it worked as the club rose from League Two to the Championship.

But North End are a salutary reminder that a new stadium does not guarantee footballing success.

After flirting with promotion to the Premiership for several years, it went horribly wrong last season when they were relegated to League One with spiralling debts.

With little money available to manager Phil Brown for team strengthening, the Lilywhites are suffering miserable form while attendances dwindle.

Despite discounted admission, their 23,000-capacity all-seater stadium was barely a quarter full for last Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Southend.

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