Newlands demolition likely, but timeline uncertain


Cape Town - The possibility of Newlands rugby stadium being demolished remains a very real - and likely - scenario, but the exact timeline for the bulldozers moving in remains uncertain. 

The cash-strapped Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) has - as was reported on the Rugby Rocks website late last week - entered into an agreement with Investec that will see the asset management group given development rights to the stadium from 2021.

Investec will take on the development on a 99-year lease. 

That means next year's 2020 Super Rugby season will in all likelihood be the Stormers' final campaign at Newlands with a relocation thereafter to the Cape Town Stadium - built ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup - the ultimate goal for the union. 

The Cape Town Stadium has largely proved to be a 'white elephant' and has placed an enormous strain on the city’s finances with the City of Cape Town announcing it is looking for an anchor tenant.

A payment of R110 million from Investec to the WPRFU will take place immediately and a highly-placed WPRFU source has confirmed to Sport24 that R52 million will go directly to Remgro to settle the union's debt with the Johann Rupert-owned enterprise. 

Remgro, a Stellenbosch-based investment holding company, bailed out WP with a loan at the end of 2016 when the union faced bankruptcy.

The remaining R58 million will be used as working capital at the union. 

However, prior to any development taking place, Investec will have to secure rezoning rights from the City of Cape Town before they can move ahead with any potential demolition and construction. 

For that reason alone - which may or may not prove to be a stumbling block - it remains unclear when, or indeed if, a complete demolition of South Africa's oldest rugby stadium will take place.

The news drew a response from the Newlands Residents Association, who in their latest email to residents in the suburb expressed both sadness and concern at the deal.

"It wasn't unexpected but will still be tinged with sadness for those who have spent many afternoons in one of the truly iconic stadiums in world sport," it said via spokesperson, March Turnbull.

"The stadium has been an integral part of our neighbourhood for all of our residents, whether you have loved the rugby or despaired at the parking on match days.

"The current plan is to develop residential and retail units on the site. As soon as plans are in the public domain we will try to tell you about them - the thought of even more traffic is a little daunting..."

Investec will have complete control over the development and reports that it will look to erect residential and retail properties were further strengthened by the fact that WPRFU has agreed to a 5% share in all profits that accrue from the development.

In addition, WPRFU will also benefit from 3.5% of any resale of units that are constructed.

According to reports, no income is expected from these sources for at least the first six years.

Before any development takes place, though, Investec will have the option of keeping the stadium operational in 2021 - even if the Stormers have relocated to the Cape Town Stadium.

That would open the door for Absa Premiership clubs like Cape Town City FC and Stellenbosch FC to play matches at the ground in the interim. 

PSL matches have already been played there this season, with Cape Town City FC entertaining giants Kaizer Chiefs in front of over 20 000 spectators in August. 

However, from a financial standpoint the more likely scenario would be that construction will begin as soon as possible after the City of Cape Town has given the green light. 

The WPRFU-Investec deal does not provide the asset group with development rights to any of the residential properties that WPRFU owns in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. 

Newlands hosted its first official match on May 31, 1890 when Stellenbosch defeated Villagers in front of around 2 400 spectators.

The following year the ground, which now has a capacity just shy of 52 000, played host to the first of the 54 Tests staged to date at the iconic venue, in a match which saw the British Lions run out 4-0 winners.

Should SA Rugby not award Newlands a 'farewell' Test in 2020 against an as yet unconfirmed mid-year touring nation or against Argentina, Australia or New Zealand in next year's Rugby Championship, Newlands' final ever Test will remain the 25-10 defeat to England on June 23, 2018.

Newlands rugby stadium (Gallo Images)

Newlands rugby stadium (Gallo Images)

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