|The Pirate revisited||
3 August 2019.
Bristol Rovers: Fruit Market site targeted for new stadium.
Bristol Rovers are putting together a planning application to build a new stadium on the Bristol Fruit Market site, club president Wael Al-Qadi said.
After Rovers' plans for a 21,000-seater venue at the University of the West of England fell through in 2017, they "explored several" unnamed venues.The League One club have played at their Memorial Stadium home since 1996.
"We have identified one site, along with others, we are very interested in," Al-Qadi told BBC Radio Bristol.
Talks over what to do with Bristol Rovers' home ground have been a long-running saga.
The club first mooted plans to expand the Memorial Ground in 2005.Those were later ditched in favour of a 21,000-seater stadium on the outskirts of the city. "One of the sites is the fruit market - we are very interested in that site," Mr Al-Qadi. Bristol Fruit Market is about four miles south of the Memorial Stadium, close to the city's main Temple Meads railway station. "We have already started the work that goes in to planning permission," Mr Al-Qadi told sports presenter Geoff Twentyman. "As you know it's a very long process and there's a lot of technical work that has to be done to get approval." The site is currently owned by several parties and shareholders.
Rovers begin their 2019-20 season away at Blackpool on Saturday, after a 15th-place finish last term.
Stadium Buisiness News website
Bristol Rovers president Wael Al-Qadi has revealed that the League One football club is putting together a planning application for a new stadium that would be based at the city’s Fruit Market site.
In 2017, Rovers ditched plans to build a new stadium at the University of West of England (UWE) and last year Al-Qadi said the club was assessing various options to resolve its long-held goal of developing a new ground.
Back in 2011, the club had agreed a deal with the UWE and Sainsbury’s to build a 21,000-seat venue on the outskirts of the Bristol but the supermarket chain opted to pull out of the project following a number of delays and petitions by campaigners opposed to the plans. Ultimately, a financial agreement was not reached and Rovers opted to pull the plug on the plans.
The club has played at the 12,300-seat Memorial Stadium (pictured) since 1996.
Speaking to BBC Radio Bristol, Al-Qadi said: “We have identified one site, along with others, we are very interested in. One of the sites is the Fruit Market – we are very interested in that site.
“We have already started the work that goes in to planning permission. As you know it’s a very long process and there’s a lot of technical work that has to be done to get approval.”
The Fruit Market site is owned by various parties and shareholders, including Total Produce.
Fruit Market response.
One of Bristol wholesale market’s main shareholders has denied the site is set to be sold to Bristol Rovers Football Club for the development of a new stadium.
Ahead of the club’s season opener against Blackpool last Saturday, Rovers president Wael Al-Qadi told BBC Radio Bristol that the site of the fruit and vegetable market, between Arnos Vale and Saint Philip's, was the club’s preferred location for its new ground.
Building a replacement for Rovers’ Memorial Stadium was one of Al-Qadi’s promises to fans when his family bought the club back in 2016.
Al-Qadi said: “We have options but one of the sites, as you probably know from what has been talked about, is the site at the fruit market… It is one of several sites but we are very interested in that site.”
He went on to say the club still plans to finish construction of a new ground within two the next two years and has “already started the work that goes into planning permission” for the site.
Responding to Al-Qadi’s comments, Nick Matthews, who is regional director of Total Produce and one of the market’s shareholders, went on BBC Radio Bristol on Tuesday morning “to put people right”.
The fruit market is currently co-owned by fresh produce suppliers Total Produce, Fresca Group and Arthur David & Company.
"It was a bit of a surprise to me as well to be honest,” he said. "The only reason I responded to the tweet put out by BBC Radio Bristol was to put people right.
"We have offers for the fruit market on a regular basis – we had one recently but on behalf of Total Produce we declined the offer.
"We are not the only shareholder, but we are a major shareholder in the market. Our view on things is we are happy where we are. We have got no desire to move. We have got no need to move.
"The site where we are works for us currently so unless someone comes along and makes us and offer we can't refuse we will be sticking where we are."
Despite not ruling out the sale completely, Matthews stressed that to have a stadium built on the site of the wholesale market within two years was a “fantasy”.
"With several shareholders involved it could take two to three years to find the right place to move to and then build a new fruit market, and then only when we have moved to a new fruit market and left the old one empty could somebody demolish it and even start to think about building a new stadium.
"To say they are going to be on our site in two years is fantasy really."
14-November-2019 Bristol Live.
What mayor Marvin Rees had to say about the Fruit Market and the future of Bristol Rovers.
Marvin Rees insists Bristol City Council are fully committed to securing a sustainable and ambitious future for Bristol Rovers but stopped short of revealing specific details surrounding takeover talks and the proposed site of a new stadium at the Fruit Market.
As revealed by Bristol Live in August, a UK-based consortium has been in extensive discussions with shareholders surrounding the 11-acre site just to the east of Temple Meads over purchasing the land with a view to building a 20,000-seater stadium and leisure facilities.
That purchase would then lead to a full takeover of Bristol Rovers as the Al Qadi family have been open to selling the club for at least the last 11 months, due to annual losses incurred, which for the most recent accounts stood at £3.6m, and their own frustrations at finding a new home for the club.
Bristol Live understands that talks remain positive between the proposed buyer and Dublin-based Total Produce, who are the majority shareholder and kingmaker, and are considering the latest sizeable offer on the table with a decision expected soon.
Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol on Wednesday night, Mayor of Bristol Rees was questioned by host Laura Rawlings about the Fruit Market but remained tight-lipped on specifics regarding the future of Rovers as he claimed it would potentially jeopardise the deal.
"We want the club to flourish. There are conversations going on regarding various configurations of the club that I'm not going to get into on air," Rees told BBC Radio Bristol.
"We're the most pro-sports administration the city has ever had. It's a big part of the city's future to have mass participation and world class events.
"Now, world class events take world class facilities. We want to support all of our sport teams to have world class facilities.
"The specifics are obviously very sensitive areas and it's not something I can talk about. It's great for radio but wouldn't be great for Bristol Rovers.
We have a good relationship with the clubs and we'll support the clubs.
"In terms of specifics I won't go into them if me sharing them on air won't be great for the sports clubs.
"I think the club and the city are very ambitious. The fans want great facilities and I'm not going to give the BBC material that could cost the club's futures.
"We'll support the clubs in pursuing what they think they need to succeed as clubs in the future on a sustainable basis."
The Fruit Market is the latest proposed site in what has been a long, extensive and difficult search for a new stadium to replace the charming but dilapitated Memorial Stadium.
Several sites, most recently at UWE, have been a various stages of being explored, negotiated and significant money spent but none have come to
As reported by Bristol Live in August, the proposed buyers have held initial discussions with the Mayor's Office over their plans as should a purchase be completed, the Fruit Market and the traders who work there will need to be moved to another site.
Their plans also include restaurants, bars and another leisure facilities in what would be a wholesale development in an area of the city that is largely industrial.
The proposed buyer does possess significant experience and expertise of undertaking such large-scale redevelopment work in a major city in England.
"It's not easy to build stadiums. They're quite big and they take land. That's not always easy to get done," Rees added.
"You don't know what conversations are taking place at the moment. I'm not saying anything about it but there has to be an ask that goes with an offer.
"A local government cannot deliver Premier League football to Bristol but we can say to the clubs is, 'what can we do to make ourselves most useful to making it possible for you to become a Premier League team.
"That's our ongoing offer but those things don't happen quickly."
As for the prospect of Rovers potentially building their stadium beyond the confines of Bristol and into South Gloucestershire, the mayor offered his clear opinion, "that wouldn't be my preference. It's a Bristol team so it's nice to have a Bristol team in Bristol."
The future of the site where the Mem is would also be a matter of significance for the council, with the proposed buyer of Rovers likely to turn that into a residental development.
Redeveloping the Mem is a difficult exercise due to the density of housing surrounding it and the building restrictions that govern two sides of the ground.
When asked about the future of the Mem, Rees added: "That would be part of a wider conversation if they did move sites."
23-June-2020. Bristol live.
Wael Al-Qadi, Bristol Rovers and the truth regarding the Fruit Market and takeover talks.
The president now has a level of control at the club he has long craved, but the need for a new stadium remains
The last nine months have been a time of great personal tragedy for Wael Al-Qadi with the death in February of his father Abdul Qadar Al Qadi, but also, conversely, professional triumph as he stands today in a stronger position than ever as president of Bristol Rovers.
Having completed the purchase of a majority stake in Dwane Sports, Rovers are unquestionably under his control, with older brother Hani – often acting as a consultary financial regulator for the club with no discernible interest in football – no longer part of the direct decision-making.
That’s been against the departure of Steve Hamer as chairman, and suspension and resignation of Ken Masters as Supporters’ Club representative on the board, and if you’re still in any doubt as to why they left the club, his interview with BBC Points West Sports Editor Alistair Durden essentially revealed why.
When asked the rationale behind the elevation of the immensely-popular Tom Gorringe and Karim Mardam-Bey to the board, Wael Al-Qadi said: "I believe in order for any organisation to be successful you need to surround yourself with the right people; with the most important attribute being people you can trust."
And that lack of trust was also locked in an issue that has lurked in the background of Bristol Rovers Football Club ever since the UWE deal collapsed – the search for a new stadium.
Without going over old ground too much, the need for a new home away from the Mem is paramount in securing the long-term sustainability of the club as £3m+ losses a year, with no sign of progress is draining, not just to one's wallet.
And while plans have been put in place and subsequently actioned to secure an element of sustainability, while the Mem stands in its current form, it's an incomplete project.
Until his departure Hani Al-Qadi, who also stepped down as director of Dwane Developments in March, held a preference for a complete sale of the club with countless speculators, investors and third parties holding loose interest.
Despite football’s troubles and the staggering losses incurred by clubs in England, owning one remains an enticing prospect – for a number of reasons, both practical and romantic - and, for all its faults as an investment opportunity, there has been consistent interest in Rovers.
Around 18 months ago it was established that a consortium, with a background in large-scale commercial and property development, were the most credible bidders out there.
That was tied in with Hani Al-Qadi’s desire for a sale, due to the financial black holes that needed to be plugged and his own apathy towards football in general; unlike Wael, whose love of the game is what, at base level, maintains his connection.
There had been long-running concerns, however, that Hamer – who was the first point of contact in the early days of talks – and Masters had grown too close to the idea of what Rovers would look like after a takeover, rather than the present status of the club, and that caused obvious friction within the boardroom.
Although the Fruit Market consortium have held exclusivity, other offers have remained in the background; most notably a team of investors featuring former Palermo chairman Clive Richardson, via his business Backroom Partners, who was willing to allow Wael Al-Qadi to retain a stake in the club.
Rovers’ internal valuation of the club of £13.5m, however, saw Richardson and investors walk away around the turn of the year and Bristol Live understands he is no longer part of any discussions.
There has also been a project involving two prominent Rovers fans and local businessmen who claim to hold land in South Gloucestershire ripe for development, also retaining Wael Al-Qadi's presence at the club, but that offer has never been viewed with any great credibility.
Former Tottenham and Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp was also reportedly interested as part of an investment group, according to the Sun’s Alan Nixon, but despite being a friend of Wael Al-Qadi, through Jordanian football, there has been no contact with Rovers.
In truth, the Fruit Market consortium has always been the only show in town.
However, while talks between them and the various shareholders at the St Philip’s site – most notably Total Produce - have been taking place, Wael Al-Qadi has been successfully, and rather shrewdly manoeuvring himself into a position of power.
Hamer and Masters left within the space of three months and in chief executive Martyn Starnes, Gorringe and Mardam-Bey he has a team he can rely upon.
Even Graham Coughlan’s completely coincidental departure as manager in December, despite the fine job that he did, can be seen as further reinforcing Wael Al-Qadi’s concept for what he wants Rovers to be as a club, and therefore his own position.
Coughlan and head of recruitment Tommy Widdrington’s relationship was not always cordial, as witnessed by the disagreement surrounding UCD defender Liam Scales, as the manager wanted to sign the 21-year-old without anyone else at the club having scouted him.
With Ben Garner’s appointment, Wael Al-Qadi has a coach who’s willing to operate within a sporting director-style model in which responsibilities over recruitment are ceded to Widdrington and his team, but with the manager maintaining a strong say over requirements.
There is a mutual understanding, respect and appreciation of each other’s work that didn’t consistently exist before between departments before, with Widdrington also acting as mentor and sounding board to Garner.
But away from the pitch, as we now know, Wael Al-Qadi has taken control in a more tangible way with the purchase of a majority stake in Dwane Sports, which will have a bearing on what happens next with the Fruit Market.
Starnes’ claim on June 9 that, "hopefully we will be able to announce something positive in the next few weeks", arrived on the back of the development of to-be-renamed Colony, after three years of inactivity of the site at Almondsbury. Understandably leading some fans to believe that the Holy Grail of a new stadium announcement was imminent.
Regarding the Fruit Market, the situation hasn’t changed, and if the site is sold it will be to the original consortium intent on developing that area of Bristol, with the possibility of a football stadium.
Contrary to countless rumours, claims and since-deleted messages on social media, the purchase of that land isn’t finalised, having been locked in legal argument for much of 2020.
Bristol Live understands there is significant progress on the horizon but the idea that an announcement is "soon", is ambitious; albeit, depending on your definition of the word.
The land is still to be mitigated - assessed to determine the extent of any building work that can take place - which is vital given it’s situated so close to the river.
The Fruit Market itself also remains trading, with a need to find alternative premises. That being said, there is precedent with Total Produce having sold land in Birmingham before quickly spending £50m on a new site in 2018.
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when a deal will be "done" in the formal business sense but a more realistic timeline would appear August, at the earliest. But, barring any logistical difficulties, the Fruit Market purchase should eventually happen, with or without Rovers on board.
The focus will then shift back onto the Gas and what Wael Al-Qadi’s desires and intentions are regarding the consortium and how much control in the club he’s now willing to surrender in order to secure a new stadium.
It’s clear, and he’s said it himself, he has no intention of sanctioning a full sale. That offer is no longer on the table and probably disappeared when Hani Al-Qadi sold his shares in Dwane Sports.
Having fought so relentlessly, amid considerable criticism from sections of the fanbase over an apparent lack of ambition, and all the exhausting politicking of Hamer and Masters, to almost instantly sell a significant stake could, in some instances, even represent a degree of personal defeat.
To further complicate the situation, there is also the matter of the capitalisation of Rovers’ debt, which while undoubtedly a positive move for the long-term financial health of the club, and restoring faith between fans and owner, may well have raised the value of the club.
After all, a club substantively debt free is worth more than one burdened with considerable liabilities.
But, as has been the case for the last 12-18 months, the Fruit Market site appears the only credible option for securing a stadium within the next 3-5 years.
Having done so much, during a global pandemic nonetheless and financial crisis throughout professional sport, to develop the infrastructure of the club, a new stadium represents the true realisation of what Wael Al-Qadi has desired since the family purchased the club in 2016.
The drive back up the Football League has always, perhaps a touch unfairly, been attributed solely to the bloody mindedness of Darrell Clarke’s management skills. A new home for the Gas would be the true confirmation of Wael Al-Qadi’s legacy.
The question is, having put himself in such a position of control, how much is he now willing to give up to secure it?