Huddersfield Town could secure “operational control” of the John Smith’s Stadium by the end of the year, chairman Phil Hodgkinson has revealed.
Talks between Kirklees Council, Town and Huddersfield Giants have progressed well and a new ownership structure could be just months away.
A Community Trust is to take ownership of the stadium and a 25-year lease will be awarded to Town, allowing the club to make money from all activities at the stadium from bar sales and food to pop concerts, conferences and events. The Giants will then become tenants of the football club.
As part of the deal around £10 million to £12 million will be loaned to Town by the Trust to invest in the stadium, which is in need of extensive repairs and maintenance.
The new ownership structure won’t impose any more costs on Town, it is understood. Instead of paying rent to Kirklees Stadium Development Ltd, as they do now, they will service the loan from the Trust.
But what the new deal means is that, for the first time since the stadium was opened in 1994, the football club will be able to generate revenue which could be worth anything from £2 million to £5 million a year, depending on what facilities are created at the stadium.
In an interview with BBC Radio Leeds, Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson said: “The deal is agreed in principle. There’s a little bit of a stumbling block that’s come up in the past couple of months that more relates to HD1, going back a bit, so nothing to do with the football club, the rugby club or the council.
“That’s currently being dealt with, hopefully by way of mediation, which we’re not involved in. All parties anticipate the deal will be concluded before the end of this year.
“What that looks like is that the football club will take over the running of the stadium. The stadium will be put into trust and the football club will be given a 25-year rolling lease. The Giants will become a tenant of the football club and pay rent.
“The Trust will provide an initial sum of money to the football club on favourable terms, I think we’re talking in the region of about £10 million to £12 million, which will be invested in the stadium.”
The biggest development planned at the stadium is a new 165-bed hotel, just over the river bridge on a playground and part of the Town Avenue car park.
Kirklees Council signed off planning permission at the end of July. One of the conditions is that £158,000 is paid to the council to compensate for the loss of the open space.
In the original planning documents, submitted in July 2019, images show the hotel as a Hilton Garden Inn.
Mr Hodgkinson said: “We’ve got the planning permission through for the hotel and I’ve been having discussions with the council and have brought in some potential investors who want to build the hotel, which will be 165 bedrooms.”
Mr Hodgkinson wants to make the stadium more of a venue for business conferences and also wants to create two fan bars which will be open on non-matchdays too. Corporate facilities will also be extended and there are plans for a ‘tunnel club’ in the main stand.
“We’ve got some really exciting plans and we’ve been working with some companies for the last few months,” Mr Hodgkinson added.
“We’ve finalised all the plans now and once we get to a point whereby the structure is going to be complete we’re going to sit down and talk to people like the Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association and fan groups and get their input to the degree that we can, and we’ll then start that work.
“It’s all around improving the stadium and making it a better experience for supporters at all levels but also to try and turn it into a facility that generates revenue for the club seven days a week.”
Mr Hodgkinson said it was all about making the club “more self-sufficient” and added: “I think if we get it right, you’d be looking at an increased revenue within two years of anywhere from £2m to £5m, so it’s significant.
“The repayments are very sensible and over a long period of time, and the beauty of that is we currently pay rent to KSDL, the way we’ll repay the loans is by paying our rent to the Trust, so it’s not an additional cost to the club. It’s not more debt per se, it’s just a different way of servicing it.
“Rather than us paying rent, we’re being paid rent, and the rent that we’re paying is being invested back into the stadium to create something better for the football club, and the rugby club, who will get the benefit of all this as well.”
Back in March Kirklees Council’s Cabinet agreed to look into setting up a Community Trust and loaning the new body £13 million.
The council also wanted to buy a plot of development land off Gasworks Street that was bought by KSDL.