|STADIUM KEY TO FUTURE
(Monday 6th July 2009)
The sale of Adams Park and the building of a new 'Community Stadium' for the use of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps provide the key to the sustainable future of the Wanderers according to the proposals being presented to PLC shareholders ahead of the EGM on 6th July 2009.
The proposals lift the 25% restriction on share ownership and will give Club MD and current London Wasps owner Steve Hayes 100% voting control in return for converting £3m worth of his current £6.9m loan notes. Perhaps, more significantly, the proposals also remove the protection from selling Adams Park and other 'substantial' property or assets (eg the training ground at Booker) with reference to the Founder Shareholders.
Club Chairman Ivor Beeks explained in the notice to shareholders on 18 June 2009, "We all want the football club to perform at the highest level possible but any growth must be sustainable. As you may be aware, the Club has been exploring the possibility of a new purpose built stadium in order to, increase revenues coming into the Club and to give supporters, staff and players the state of the art facilities which they deserve for the future. The Board believe that the restrictions contained in the Current Articles which prevent the disposal of Adams Park or a substantial asset of the Company have to be removed to enable any future stadium development and the Board to be able to secure the continued growth of the Club and to attract the investment required to sustain this growth." [The 'book' value of the Club's Freehold land and buildings (including Adams Park and the Training Ground) as of June 2008 was £5.55m.]
Club MD Steve Hayes, the driving force behind the proposals, explained more at a presentation to shareholders and Club staff on 24th June 2009. He confirmed the news previously reported on COTN in February 2009 that a seperate company would manage any new stadium with the Football Club being relieved of the upkeep costs but also seeing related income from London Wasps (estimated at £500,000 per season) and other non-football related activities (eg banquetting and conference) removed from the Football Club balance sheet. But for Steve Hayes the new stadium is the 'only option', stating to the press, “If you stay at Adams Park you will lose the revenue of Wasps anyway because Wasps will need a new ground." Steve Hayes, who also said at the presentation that 'stadiums are not built for a lifetime, added "All the seats will need replacing in the next ten years. It’s a budget stadium."
The management of the proposed stadium is understood to be linked to a company formed by Steve Hayes, along with business advisor and fellow London Wasps Director Mike Brooks, back in August 2006. It was then in August 2007 that Steve Hayes first revealed his ambitions to move to a new stadium, along with his first stakeholding in London Wasps of 11%. Two months later Wycombe District Council published its 'Imagine the Future 4' document which included reference to Wycombe Sports Developments making representations regarding sporting facilities in High Wycombe and the possible provision on what is now being branded as a 'Community Stadium'.
After initial suggestions that a new stadium could be located along Daws Hill Lane or at Handy Cross, Wycombe District Council revealed in July 2008 that the proposed site for the 'Community Stadium' was the Council owned Booker Air Field site. A six month feasibilty study was due to take place with an estimated cost of £250,000 but this was put on hold due to the financial climate.
The stadium now forms a part of the Council's 'Sports Facilities Strategy' made public in April 2009 where they suggest Wanderers' requirement are for a 'new 20,000 seat stadium with ancillary facilities; outdoor training facilities – 6 football pitches and 3x3G covered pitches, and ancillary facilities including changing, fitness suite etc. (Can share some facilities with London Wasps)'. Meanwhile, London Wasps are said to have a requirement for 'a 20,000 seat stadium with ancillary facilities; outdoor training facilities – 6 rugby pitches, 1 3G STP [synthetic training pitch], and ancillary facilities including changing, fitness suite, running track (indoor and outdoor), access to 25m pool (can share some facilities with WWFC)". The strategy was co-ordinated by a 'Steering Group' that included Steve Hayes, as well as representives from WDC, Bucks County Council and Bucks New University.
The stadium proposals have yet to form part of the Council's 'Imagine the Future 5' strategy which has been updated as recently as 16 June 2009. However, the Council do make passing reference to the 'stadium' in the associated Imagine the Future newsletter, by saying 'the proposal remains under consideration' and the proposals will be in a 'new plan', set to be announced later this year. In the meantime, the Council are asking for representations to be made from the public until 14 August 2009.
Critics of the proposals to move Wanderers away from Adams Park suggest that the finances simply may not work for the Football Club. Since moving to Adams Park in 1990, Wanderers have averaged League gates of around 5,000 and there has hardly been any significant deviation despite promotion from the Conference through to what is now called 'League One'. Promotion to 'The Championship' would ultimately increase gates but there is no evidence to suggest that a club the size of Wycombe could sustain gates any more than the current capacity of 10,000, leaving a deep financial shortfall from not benefiting from the income and security of owning your own ground.
Timescales will also be a worry for those with interest in the move. Any move is likely to be in excess of five years away, if not considerably longer. The Council currently lease the 204 acre site at Booker to Airways Aero Association (now owned by Arora Property holdings). That lease is due to expire in 2014 and before then an extensive feasibilty study will need to take place, centering not just on the location but also the funding of what will include housing and retail establishments as part of an 'enabling project'. However, at current spending levels Wanderers are losing on average £1.5m per year and London Wasps around £2m, leaving any investors needing deep pockets while chasing the new stadium dream. Based on the current financial strategy, that would leave Wanderers with close to a £10m debt by 2014 and still no guarantee of a new stadium.
Proposals to increase the capacity of Adams Park and improve access also appear to have run as a low priority since the vision of the 'community stadium' has been touted. It's understood that proposals have been drafted to suit Wasps capacity requirements by installing temporary seating above the Valley End terrace but no formal applications have been made to date. Once again it's the lack of any alternative plan or contengency arrangements should the stadium proposals not come to fruition that will concern many Wanderers followers.
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