THE site identified by the Sky Blues to build a new stadium is the Butts Park Arena home of Coventry rugby club, the Observer can exclusively reveal.
We revealed yesterday that new Coventry City Football Club managing director Chris Anderson was calling for help from the local authorities and others over options including a new stadium “in Coventry”.
Previously, the club had for two years said it was searching for sites in the “Coventry area”, with the help of real estate consultants.
Mr Anderson revealed yesterday the Football League had already inspected the site in Coventry, which he would not reveal for commercially sensitive reasons.
It has prompted speculation the Butts was the most likely site, and other media speculating the identified site is not in Coventry, and that Mr Anderson had made a mistake.
But sources have confirmed to the Coventry Observer the plan is for a joint venture over playing and non-playing commercial operations with Coventry Rugby Football Club, which would also stand to benefit. The Sky Blues have already moved ticket operations to the Butts Park Arena.
The Butts Park Arena currently has 4,000 seats, and standing raises the capacity further.
It is believed the plan is for a new stadium which could initially be an all-seater stadium of between 12,000 and 15,000.
But there would be scope to extend it, potentially upwards, to accommodate more than 20,000 fans if the League One club achieves its ambition of promotions.
Neither the football club or rugby club will publicly name the site.
The freehold of the Butts Park Arena site is held by Coventry City Council, and Coventry Rugby Football Club holds a long lease.
Planning permission would be required from Coventry City Council. Outline planning permission was previously granted for a much larger stadium at the Butts.
If the council’s planning committee of councillors was to object, a final decision could go to the government’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, potentially after a planning inquiry.
Some Sky Blues fans have long insisted any new stadium should be in Coventry, not in surrounding Warwickshire.
The Butts Park Arena plan would restore the Sky Blues’ home to a central city location for the first time since the club left the historic Highfield Road home in Hillfields they owned, to move to the out-of-town Ricoh Arena as tenants in 2005.
Crucially, the plan would be to enable the football club as stakeholders in their own stadium to gain more commercial revenue to help invest in the team – and add value to the currently loss-making football club business.
The football club is unable to maximise commercial revenue opportunities at the 32,000-capacity Ricoh Arena, where it is a mere tenant of the traditionally London-based Premiership rugby club Wasps.
It is now just over a year since Coventry City Council and the Alan Edward Higgs Charity agreed in private to sell Sky Blues’ Ricoh Arena home to Wasps on a 250-year lease deal not offered to the football club, following a long-running bitter legal dispute over stadium rent, revenues and ownership.
The century-old Coventry rugby club complained at the time that it, along with the Sky Blues, had been completely kept in the dark about the council’s deal to bring a Premiership rugby rival to the city.
The developments come with negotiations set over the football club temporarily extending its rental deal at the Ricoh Arena. The current £100,000-a-year rent arrangement – established last year when the Sky Blues returned from a year of playing ‘home’ games at Northampton – included the option of extending it for another two years.
As we reported yesterday, the Coventry Observer understands the club would prefer as short a temporary Ricoh deal as possible, while advancing plans for the new stadium and commercial opportunities, including non-matchday events.
Wasps last week publicly expressed their desire to secure a long-term deal with the Sky Blues as tenants, potentially for 10 years.
It has emerged Wasps – who have transferred £35million of debt to retail bond holders in a scheme first exclusively revealed by the Observer – are yet to secure a multi-million pound deal over Ricoh Arena naming rights, previously expected this summer.
Wasps are also saddled with annual interest payments of over £2million amid ongoing losses, while their gates are currently around 10,000, a similar figure to Sky Blues attendances.
It is believed any party interested in the naming rights such as Jaguar Land Rover may first want an indication as to the football club’s long-term intentions.
The Court of Appeal is in January due to determine the football club owners’ claim that Coventry City Council acted unlawfully in using £14.4million of taxpayers’ money to bail out the Ricoh Arena in January 2013 at the height of dispute, and there could be associated legal challenges over the council’s Wasps deal.
As we revealed yesterday, Mr Anderson said about the identification of a new stadium site in Coventry: “It is not just smoke and mirrors.”
He told the Coventry Observer yesterday: “It would be irresponsible not to consider all options, staying at the Ricoh or our own stadium.
“We owe it to the club. We are after making the best decisions for the football club.
“People understand we’re under severe financial constraints. We are not competing on a level playing field against other teams in our division and other divisions who do own their own stadium.
“We are fighting with one hand behind our backs and it’s not fair.
“Fairness is a moral concern and there are also severe commercial implications. We are in a bind because of historic events. We need to find a way out of that bind.
“We don’t make announcements and decisions individually. We need to co-operate with everybody in the community – our supporters to come to the games, our partners at the Ricoh to have a viable model, and the support and goodwill of public authorities.
“We are asking for their help. We need to earn trust and get that co-operation. We need to repair a relationship.”
The city council remains the freeholder of the Ricoh Arena site and its Labour leaders has invested significant political capital in the Wasps project succeeding.
The central location for the football club would ensure good transport links. One potential problem could be car parking arrangements for a larger Butts Park Arena stadium, where there is limited space and a compact footprint. Other sporting clubs have developed car parking underground.