Rugby club: We're looking for 20k stadium
The new chief executive of Bath Rugby says the club is looking to build a stadium which can hold at least 20,000 people.
A statement from Nick Blofeld on the website of a city discussion group has revealed that the club has raised its aspirations from a previous capacity of 15,000.
Mr Blofeld, who was appointed in June, has embarked on a root and branch review of the club’s options for developing a new stadium.
Central to that is a decision on whether the club’s future lies at its historic home at The Rec - or elsewhere in the city.
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Today Mr Blofeld said he hoped to make an announcement on that in the New Year.
The club has previously ruled out all other sites within Bath but is looking anew as the difficulties of using The Rec with all that its charitable status entails continue to cause headaches.
Mr Blofeld recently spoke at a meeting of the Better Bath Forum called to discuss The Rec, telling his audience that the club was keeping its options open.
Now, in a more detailed response published as part of the Better Bath process, he has put some flesh on those bones.
Mr Blofeld, who has moved to Bath from Epsom Downs racecourse, does not mention options for other sites in his submission.
He says: “We have focused on developing the Recreation Ground to accommodate an arena that can help create a long-term, economically viable business to support a top level professional rugby club, providing facilities for other purposes and events to produce income on the vast majority of days when matches are not being played.”
He says the “fundamental criteria” required are an arena of 20,000 capacity with the potential for future expansion, which should be covered and mostly seated.
Mr Blofeld says the development must be capable of generating revenue at other times than match days and so should cater for other sports and events.
He says a new stadium would need shops - but that a hotel is no part of the club’s thinking for The Rec.
“It will require good, permanent facilities such as restaurants and cafés, hospitality suites, conference facilities and good food and beverage outlets and other potential retail outlets. “
His answer says that the club’s ideas have not reached the final design stage yet.
“The final footprint and amount of available space has not been agreed. We have looked at numerous options and footprints which show the space required but the height and scale will be limited by planning restrictions on such a sensitive site. Any new design would be subject to rigorous planning and design considerations and meet tough criteria set by Premier Rugby Limited as well using materials that meet the special setting and environment of the Recreation Ground.”
Mr Blofeld told the Chronicle today: “The rationale for 20,000 capacity is based on our early business modelling and also looking at other clubs and how they are developing. This has to be the right size for the next 30-40 years at least, with the right blend of facilities, seats and terracing. Leicester is an interesting case study where they are already at 24,500 and going to 31,000. If we want to complete and the top level in the UK and Europe then we need to has the best chance of doing that by building and bigger support base and growing income streams to allow us to re-invest in the club.
“We are not yet ready to announce whether we will stay at The Rec or not, we still working through options and discussing ideas with the council and the Charity Commission, we hope we may be able to do so in the New Year.”
The councillors who make up the Rec Trust Board which governs the site on a day to day basis are trying to come up with proposals for future use of The Rec which would both accommodate a new stadium but also greater community sports use of the land.
The final arbiter is the Charity Commission, and a land-swap arrangement involving moving land at Firs Field at Combe Down under the Rec Trust’s control will also be key.
Meanwhile, The Real Friends of the Rec pressure group has also published a more detailed response to questions about its hopes.
The group wants Bath Rugby to stay at The Rec and develop facilities that could host a range of sports - from football to cricket.
It envisages what it calls “a sympathetic, but iconic horseshoe arena, redeveloping the current, unsightly, outdated and unimaginative west and north stands that now exist.”
The group adds: “We believe that a more aesthetic arena will be used throughout the year for other amateur and professional sports, concerts, exhibitions and functions which will increase the revenue earning capacity considerably. At present, 25 per cent of the Rec, ie the current Rugby Club stands and facilities, are used for a maximum of 17 days a year for rugby and little else.
“Improved catering, banqueting and conference facilities will contribute largely to increased revenue, as will the draw of new and interesting one-off sporting events which will bring more worldwide television coverage to the Rec and increase the value of naming rights for the arena.”
Full responses are at the website www.betterbath.org.uk