NAMING rights to Meadowbank Stadium are set to be sold off in a bid to fund the redevelopment of the sports centre.
A healthcare centre for sports injuries and a potential base for Edinburgh Rugby are included in £43 million plans to breathe new life into the 45-year-old stadium complex, alongside an athletics track with a stand accommodating 500 spectators, sports halls with seating for a further 1000, a gymnastics arena and studios.
But the council faces borrowing up to £20 million to pay for the scheme which would “future-proof” Meadowbank for the next 50 years.
Selling the naming rights would help to cover those costs at a time when the city is battling to save £67m.
The move comes as council officials warn that the city has only five years to save the facility from closure due to its increasingly dilapidated state.
The venue lost more than £400,000 over 2013-14 despite welcoming more than half a million visitors.
Finding a commercial sponsor for the stadium is also among a range of finance options being examined.
Murrayfield has been sponsored by BT since May in a deal worth £5m a year. Any deal for Meadowbank would earn significantly less but could still prove lucrative given the prominent position of the site, the large number of visitors to the centre and its high profile within the Capital.
City leader Andrew Burns said: “Meadowbank is virtually 50 years old – it was built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games.
“This will hopefully give it another 50 years of life and see it into the second half of this century.
“It’s tired and needs refreshed, but it’s still Edinburgh Leisure’s most successful facility in terms of numbers.”
In addition to indoor and outdoor athletics tracks, fresh blueprints have revealed the revamped centre will boast:
• 3G synthetic pitches for rugby, football and other teams;
• An eight-badminton court sports hall with 500 permanent seats plus benches, as well as a four-badminton court sports hall with seating for 500;
• A gymnastics arena, gym, studios, changing facilities, café and meeting rooms;
• A possible base for Edinburgh Rugby as it seeks to relocate from Murrayfield;
• A healthcare centre offering physiotherapy, remedial massage, injury rehabilitation, and nutrition advice.
Edinburgh City FC, who currently play at Meadowbank, could also benefit from a new stadium as they aim for promotion to the Scottish Professional Football League.
The venue has been at the centre of redevelopment plans for years, but a lack of cash has previously stalled proposals.
It is hoped much of the shortfall could be met through selling swathes of adjacent land to developers, “prudential” borrowing against future income, reinvesting savings generated by Meadowbank’s closure during reconstruction and a Sportscotland grant worth up to £7m.
But even with these, council bosses have identified a likely funding gap of between £11.3m and £19.8m, which they say will be challenging to plug given relentless budget pressures on roads and schools.
“We know that it’s a very cherished facility – this time I am determined that we get this right,” said Councillor Burns.
“But we cannot take a decision on Meadowbank in the void of all the other pressures that are on roads and footways, school infrastructure, which would be the obvious ones.
“Hopefully if we can take a decision in the round, then people will see some logic in it.
“If we’re going to take this, it has to be part of the wider budget.
“If you’ve been in the building, you’ll know it is now at a stage of its life where it needs significant refurbishment or a complete rebuild.
“That position has been noticeable for about ten years – it’s one of those buildings that got tired, frankly, after about 35 to 40 years.”
Designs show Meadowbank’s appearance will change dramatically if new plans – set to be discussed by councillors next month – get the green light.
The pedestrian bridge which currently takes visitors to the centre from London Road to the main reception is likely to go, with the facility’s boundary brought right up to the pavement.
And extensive use of glass will enable passers-by to see activities taking place inside, the architects have proposed.
Cllr Richard Lewis, city sport leader, said Meadowbank’s decades of service and the success of last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow meant the time had come to consider change.
“For almost 50 years now, Meadowbank has nurtured sporting participation at all levels – from those taking part for recreational and health benefits to those training for success and medals on a Scottish and international stage,” he said.
“It feels right that after Scotland’s successful Commonwealth Games 2014, we kick off 2015 by considering the future of the country’s very first Games venue.
“The feasibility study requested by the council in February 2014 has now been completed and before progressing further, a decision from council is required as to whether it can meet the £11.3m to £19.8m funding shortfall currently projected.
“Over half a million users visit Meadowbank every year and it is a much-loved city sports facility, but we will need to consider how we can source funding for a project of this scale given the financial pressures the council faces.”
June Peebles, interim chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, also welcomed the plan.
She said: “Meadowbank is part of Edinburgh’s sporting heritage and continues to attract thousands of customers, participating in a wide range of physical activities, through its doors every week.”
A NEW HOME FOR EDINBURGH RUGBY?
PLANS for a £43 million revamp of Meadowbank are likely to provide further momentum to Edinburgh Rugby’s long-mooted relocation from Murrayfield.
Council chiefs said they were continuing to explore “whether there is potential to provide a home for Edinburgh Rugby at several locations across the city, including Meadowbank”.
They said their design team’s proposal included the potential for 7000 seats, which could be included in a future phase should funding become available.
The national stadium at Murrayfield has world-class facilities but, with 67,000 seats, has been widely criticised for its lack of atmosphere when Edinburgh regularly play in front of only a few thousand.
Club bosses tried to improve the matchday experience back in 2012 by moving supporters into the East Stand, which sits close to the touchline, and opening up access to the West Stand running track and behind the posts.
A successful Heineken Cup run that year helped boost the mood, with a handful of crowds over 10,000 topped by a record 38,000 attendance for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.
However, Craig Docherty, Edinburgh chief executive at the time, admitted finding a smaller stadium was a priority. “Everyone knows that Murrayfield is not an ideal home, but you do have to be very careful with what you wish for because you see a trail of destruction all over the place with guys who have gone to stadia with big rentals that they can’t fill,” he was reported as saying.
Edinburgh City FC play their Lowland League matches at Meadowbank and are aiming for promotion to League Two, which means the stadium could also host professional football.