Thursday 07 March 2013
When foreign clubs and sports administrators look for a best example to follow a regular destination of choice is the Premier League. This was the case with Arsenal, who received a visit this week from the mayor of Bordeaux to learn about how to redevelop an old stadium as well as build a new one.
Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux and former Prime Minister of France, visited Arsenal’s former stadium of Highbury, which was redeveloped by the club into housing after they left in 2006. Stade Chaban-Delmas, the present home of city’s Ligue 1 side is owned by the city’s authorities. The club will move to a new stadium being built for Euro 2016 and so with Stade Chaban-Delmas no longer being used the city’s authorities wanted to see how the site can be redeveloped.
When Highbury was turned into a residential development, Arsenal faced the unique challenge of having to respect its iconic status, which it has achieved in award-winning style. The Art Deco façades of the old Grade II-listed East Stand, with its "Marble Hall", and the locally-listed West Stand have been preserved, with flats being built to face what was the pitch but is now a central garden square, which follows the dimension of the former pitch.
Juppe, Bernard Emie, the French Ambassador to Britain, and other members of the Bordeaux council, were given a tour of the two-acre site by Michael Lloyd, the assistant stadium manager at Arsenal, who explained about the logistical problems of building 650 apartments, including 70 that are shared-equity or affordable housing and designed for disabled and wheelchair occupancy.
"Highbury Square has given us a lot of ideas to take back to Bordeaux"
Of special interest was Arsenal’s ability to achieve it all without public money. The Stade Chaban-Delmas also has achieved an historical status as one of the first stadiums to have covered stands without pillars obstructing the spectators’ views, when it was redeveloped for the 1938 World Cup. The players’ tunnel is the longest in Europe at more than 100 metres.
They then walked the short distance to the new Emirates Stadium to see the new 60,000-seat arena. The French dignitaries were impressed by what they saw at both locations.
"Highbury Square is a wonderful development that respects the traditional old stadium and has given us a lot of ideas to take back to Bordeaux," Juppe said.
Arsenal’s connections with France have been strong since Arsene Wenger became manager in 1996 and brought a number of French players to the club. The French delegation could see how the new stadium seeks to raise revenues by enhancing the matchday experience so that revenues go beyond ticket sales to include corporate hospitality, as well as other events such as rock concerts.
“The Emirates Stadium is very impressive not only in its size but with the levels of comfort it offers,” Emie said. “It provides a good blueprint for anybody looking to build a new stadium and we are grateful for Arsenal to have allowed us the chance to gain such insight.”
It is not the first time foreign administrators have come to Arsenal to learn. Lloyd explained that tours have been made by sports officials from the Repubilc of Ireland, Iraq and French rugby among others.
The positive impression left by Arsenal mirrors that received by a delegation of the French Senate when they visited at the end of last year. The report made to the French Senate by senator Jean-Francois Humbert highlighted the relatively equitable distribution of television revenues compared with other European leagues.
It also praised the community projects established by Premier League clubs through Creating Chances as a model for others to follow.