Rent row hits stadium

2009-10-03 13:43

CAPE Town is set to sign away the R4.5-billion Green Point super stadium – for just R1 a year.

Despite fears that the venue will become a costly white elephant after the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the city is pushing ahead with a controversial deal with a French-South African consortium. The city hopes to receive a 30% share of the after-tax profits of the SAIL Stadefrance Operating Company.

If the operator does not make a profit, however, the city will recover just R1 a year in rent while spending millions more on maintaining the stadium. To be viable, the building will have to host between 20 and 40 events a year.

The city’s 2010 officials are hopeful that the lease will be endorsed by the city council when it meets on October 28.

The deal is heavily skewed in ­favour of SAIL Stadefrance, represented by Springbok rugby great Morné du Plessis – so much so that one independent legal expert said this week: “The only reason a landlord would concede so much is because they know they have a white elephant on their hands and they do not know what to do with it.”

Dave Hugo, Cape Town’s 2010 technical director, disagrees: “I honestly believe it is going to be an asset ... We certainly don’t see it ­being a white elephant. To achieve that we have to sweat the asset.”

He believes that SAIL Stadefrance is a world best. “The city is not in the business of running international stadiums ... If they can’t make it work, no-one can,” he said.

“It won’t be a walk in the park,” concedes Du Plessis. “On any basis it is going to be tough.”

He believes that a “fair deal was hammered out” in the lease despite suggestions that the city was “out-manoeuvred and out-negotiated” by the ­consortium’s lawyers.

“Fifty percent of the critics say the stadium can’t sustain itself; another 50% say our deal is too good.”

But Ralph Malan, a retired engineer and vehement opponent of the stadium, said the project had been “bedevilled from start to finish with official deception of the public.

“The stadium is going to haemorrhage money,” he said.

Estimates of what it will cost to maintain vary considerably. Early figures suggested it would cost as ­little as R1,3 million a year, but others range as high as R30 million and even R150 million a year.

Du Plessis said initial costs would be low as “everything is new and ­under guarantee”.

“As they age, stadiums do start costing money and we understand that, but there is a limit to the commercial return we can generate.”

David Polovin, a businessman and lawyer who led a ratepayers’ ­investigation into the merits of the ­stadium, said that while it brought with it “a lot of infrastructural ­benefits for Cape Town”, he was ­worried that the city had agreed to accept a percentage [30%] of profits.

“It is a fundamental weakness that the lease comes down to a share of the profits. What motivation is there for the stadium’s operator to show a profit? Profit means tax and it means they have to share with the city; so all they have to do is eliminate profit with expenses.

“Any shrewd businessman knows how to hide income in expenses.”

But Polovin believes Cape Town was in an impossible position and had little choice but to accept the terms. “There were very few contenders for post-2010 operators. The operator dictated the lease to them.”

Hugo said there were no guarantees, but the operator’s business plans projected the stadium running at a profit – “except for the first couple of months”.

“We believe the operating costs of the stadium will, at least, be at break even and will not burden the ratepayer. There are no guarantees, of course, and time will tell.”

Du Plessis said an anchor tenant which would offer 10 to 12 large matches a year was key to the stadium’s success. “We can then build an event strategy around that.”

SAIL Stadefrance are in tentative talks with Cape Town’s two premiership clubs, Ajax Cape Town and Santos.

Real negotiations can, however, take place only once the lease is signed and sealed. “All we have at the moment is the potential for an events strategy,” Du Plessis said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

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