Cardiff council is planning to buy the Red Dragon Centre to pave the way for a redevelopment of the entire area and the opening of a new 15,000 capacity indoor arena.
The council has a masterplan for the £100million arena in Cardiff Bay but admits “significant work” is needed in the coming months to make sure the ambitious regeneration plans come to fruition by its target of opening the arena in 2023.
It is hoped the new arena in Atlantic Wharf would start a wave of regeneration in Cardiff Bay and also lead to a redeveloped Red Dragon Centre.
Cardiff council hopes to have planning permission agreed for the new arena agreed by the end of 2020 with construction beginning in early 2021.
It hopes to have the arena built in June 2023 ahead of the new venue being open for business in December 2023.
Before the end of the year, the council is aiming to conclude a deal to buy the Red Dragon Centre, have the future owners and operators of the arena lined up to take over the site and deliver the project, and decide on the future of County Hall.
Cardiff council is set to sign an in-principle agreement this month with the owner of the Red Dragon Centre site with a view to buying the 13 acre site by December to allow its preferred developers to take over.
The council says it is in talks with companies interested in owning and operating the arena and hopes to appoint a preferred consortia by December.
The council’s preferred option is to locate the arena on the County Hall car park and have a public square at the front, paving the way for the redevelopment of the wider area, but this is subject to change.
Talks have also taken place between the council and firms interested in taking over and redeveloping the Red Dragon Centre in a separate part of the regeneration project.
It is understood developers would only take on the Red Dragon Centre project if it’s certain the arena will be delivered.
An estimated 2,000-space multi-storey car park is also planned to serve the arena, while the Travelodge in Hemingway Road could be moved right next to the arena and expanded.
The plans could mean County Hall, the council’s HQ, is moved. In September, the council’s ruling body will be presented with plans for its core offices which may involve County Hall relocating, with a view to a final decision being made in December.
Cardiff council is committed to building the arena in Atlantic Wharf, even if the land deal for the Red Dragon Centre falls through or councillors decide against moving County Hall.
If County Hall stays where it is, the arena could be built on another location in Atlantic Wharf, such as the overflow car park of the Red Dragon Centre.
But if the land deal with BA Pension Fund falls through, the council would need to build the arena on the land it currently owns in Atlantic Wharf.
This could potentially delay the project by up to three years while the council relocates its offices.
The formal agreement with Red Dragon Centre owner BA Pension Fund, set to be agreed by the cabinet on July 11, would not be legally-binding but would be a serious signal of intent from the council.
The council is willing to buy the Red Dragon Centre and hold it for a short time – but only if it is confident someone will buy it and redevelop it.
The 12 acres of council- owned land at Atlantic Wharf is enough space in its own right to accommodate the new indoor arena, according to a council report.
But the council wants the arena to spark a wider regeneration to create a new destination in Cardiff Bay.
“Maximum impact will only be realised if the existing Red Dragon Centre
building is redeveloped,” the report says.
At this stage in the process, Cardiff council is not compelled to buy the Red Dragon Centre site and BA Pension Fund does not have to sell it.
BA Pension Fund requires the council to conclude a deal for its 13 acre site by December 31 2019.
Before then, the council would complete its full business case for the new arena and make key decisions on how deliverable the new arena would be.
To be in a position to commit to an arena, the council needs to appoint a developer or operator to demonstrate that an arena is affordable and deliverable.
If the council’s cabinet approves, the council would begin a process at the end of July to find a developer or operator for the arena project and decide its preferred partner in December.
By September 30 the council needs to have assessed the risks involved in the costs, planning and delivery of the new arena. By October 30, the council hopes an agreement will be in place to release the County Hall car park for the delivery of the arena.
The council is considering a range of funding options to deliver the 15,000-capacity arena.
The majority of the funding would come from the private sector but a council report says the arena will “almost certainly” be subsidised with taxpayer’s money.
The Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff’s existing entertainment venue, has attracted more than 10 million visits over the last 25 years and adds an estimated £29million into Cardiff’s economy every year supporting more than 500 jobs.
But the council says “it is clear the city can sustain a bigger entertainment venue, which will add a new dimension to the city’s event offer, enabling a much more regular programme of high quality events, including access to top tier promotions that currently pass the city by”.
The council has spoken with people involved in delivering arenas in other cities and has identified the 17,000 capacity Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, which was opened in 2012, as an example of a venue that matches the council’s requirement in terms of cost, performance and deliverability.
The arena would also be linked to the rest of the Cardiff by the proposed new metro light rail system which was revealed this week.
Matt Discombe covers Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan as part of the BBC's Local Democracy Reporter project, which is aimed at enhancing reporting from local authorities across the UK.