Coventry Council leader Ann Lucas told a meeting of the full council last night (22 October) that the situation around the Ricoh Arena had landed all concerned in “a sorry place” but that the business could survive on events without the football club if need be.
The council ultimately owns the stadium managed by ACL. However, tenants Coventry City Football Club had been unable to pay their rent, estimated at £1m a year, and this season are playing their home matches 30 miles away in Northampton.
While supporters wage a campaign to bring the club back to the Ricoh, a heavy burden is now placed on events to generate income for the stadium complex.
The club, even when it was able to pay its rent of £100k a month, only generates seven per cent of the total Ricoh revenues, according to management. Bruce Springsteen (pictured) attracted 38,000 to the Arena earlier this summer for one night alone.
Compass Group has ploughed £4m worth of investment into the catering side of the arena business and De Vere is running a hotel operation with a casino attached.
Cllr Lucas told the council: “For months I’ve wanted to talk to Coventry people about our football club, our Ricoh Arena and its future.
“All of us in this chamber know how passionately people feel about this issue – we’ve seen, today, the strength of the feeling of fans who just want to see their club back in the city and who took the time to come here to the Council House today to tell us how they felt.”
Cllr Lucas said lawyers had advised her not to talk about the details of the long running and often bitter dispute.
A judicial review, brought by the club’s owners Sisu, means a legal dispute is still ongoing, despite a judge rejecting Sisu’s arguments in August.
“Nothing has changed since this saga began,” Cllr Lucas said. “The council wants the Sky Blues playing great football successfully and sustainably at the Ricoh Arena. I and my colleagues will do all we can to make this happen. But sums need to add up. The arena is owned 50 per cent by the council and 50 per cent by the Higgs Charity – and we own it on behalf of the people of Coventry. I will not short change them. The Ricoh Arena is a great asset, and it deserves a great future.
“The Ricoh Arena can survive without the club – there’s no doubt about that. The business model is robust and there are well developed plans to grow the business in a number of ways. If the Ricoh Arena has to do without the football club it can do. But that’s not what we want.
“Whatever I, and my colleagues, think of Sisu, they are the current owners of the football club. At the present time only they can bring the Sky Blues back to the Ricoh, and I call on them to do so.”
The council leader went on to say she would welcome talks with anyone with sensible and sustainable plans for the future of the football club and the Ricoh Arena. “This is a level playing field, and anyone who wants to play fair can do so. That’s all I ask. This is an offer that’s open to all – whatever’s happened in the past.”
The organiser of pool and spa show SPATEX is expecting its first show at the Ricoh Arena to be a sell-out, confirming 80 per cent of stand space is already booked.
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