Sligo Rovers €17.3 million plan to redesign the Showgrounds and create a separate academy base will require a "huge element of public funding".
"A lot of League of Ireland clubs are accused of a lack of ambition," said Rovers chairman Tommy Higgins, "so we have to be ambitious. It's up to the clubs as well to do things. You can't depend on anyone else to run your football club."
Rovers will lean heavily on Government funding before the Rhatigan Architects project goes to tender.
"There will have to be a huge element in public funding in this and I don't see any reason why we couldn't apply," said Higgins, a former chief executive of Ticketmaster Europe. "Bohemians are getting public funding for [Dalymount Park] and Shamrock Rovers have got Dublin City Council to provide a brand new stadium for them so there will have to be an element of public funding, no question."
South Dublin County Council own and operate Tallaght stadium, with Shamrock Rovers as anchor tenants, after planning disputes forced a judicial review and delays of 14 years before it was finally completed in 2009.
Point being, stadium development in Ireland tends to take longer and cost significantly more than initially projected. It took Uefa's €500,000 grant and a further €900,000 from Dublin City Council, approved by the Department of Finance last February, to accelerate the redevelopment of Dalymount Park.
“We want the Showgrounds used seven days a week, so we’ve a provision here for a restaurant, pharmacy, creche, gym, doctor’s surgery, club house, offices,” Higgins explained. “This would [provide] the potential for recurring income in this development.”
The “budget estimate” of the Showgrounds is split into four categories. The design and tender stage will cost €1.28 million, the construction of the 6,000 all-seater Uefa category 3 stadia and hybrid pitch comes in just under €10 million, construction of a public plaza and 115 car parking spaces will need €3.7 million with another €2.4 million for three off-site academy pitches and a gym.
Post construction, the club’s overall revenue forecast is to grow from €1.6 million to €2.6 million in 10 years, assuming that supporters will be allowed to return “following the Covid-19 pandemic”. Until last year, Rovers averaged 2,200 fans at home matches. They anticipate the new ground will attract regular crowds of 3-4,000.
“It has been well thought out,” Higgins continued, “we believe what we’re building for is the future of the club and to make sure the club is on a good footing for the next 50, 60 years.”
Describing it as “far too early” in the process to reveal a detailed funding structure, besides Government money, Higgins hopes that the “master plan” will be completed before the club centenary in 2028.
“We’ll see how it goes. I think [Finn] Harps started theirs in 2005 but then the crash came. I don’t know about Bohs, I think they are getting to design stages. It does take a long time but you have to start somewhere.”
The FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill, without promising any financial assistance, has supported plans for the 11.4 acre site.
“Such development is a cornerstone of our vision for the future of all our League of Ireland clubs,” Hill said.
Also, Sligo RFC aligned themselves with the project by stating their hope of bringing Connacht to the Showgrounds for future games.
“We hope to have rugby games taking place here,” said Higgins. “Our stadium is empty from November for three or four months when it would be the height of the rugby season and would bring additional income into the club. That’s the thinking behind that.”
In January 2019 Connacht secured €20 million in Government funding to redevelop the Sportsground in Galway and there is no intention to rent another facility during this process.
Higgins has a better chance of attracting international women’s soccer to the north west by revealing Rovers plan to have a women’s team competing in the League of Ireland by 2023.
“I am a great believer in the women’s game, because it brings families into the club as well.”
On selling of naming rights to fund the plan, the lifelong Rovers fan added, “We are open to anything. It is quite common, naming rights. We will see what happens down the road. To be honest I think it would be very attractive, as long as we keep the name the Showgrounds here.”