The Stadium Issue
The arrival on the scene of Farhad Moshiri as a major shareholder in Everton FC in February 2016 signalled the possibility that the club might finally have the financial resources to tackle the long-standing stadium issue.
Credited with a personal fortune of around £1.2bn at the time, the British-Iranian businessman sold the 15% holding he had in Arsenal FC in partnership with Alisher Usmanov and acquired a 49.9% stake in the Toffees, buying out Robert Earl completely and part of the holdings of Bill Kenwright and Jon Woods.
Within weeks, it emerged that Everton's hierarchy were exploring two very different brownfield sites within the city for a potential relocation of the club from Goodison Park.
Situated in Croxteth on the west side of the M57 from Knowsley, the site of Everton's last serious attempt to relocate in 2007 before the Destination Kirkby scheme was called in by the Government, Stonebridge Cross would offer more of an out-of-town experience akin to many of the newer football stadia developments of the past 20 years.
The area had long been earmarked for regeneration given it's prime location off the East Lancs road and the nearby motorway and was considered at one time by online retail and distribution giant Amazon for a warehouse complex. Housing developer Cobalt Housing were also weighing up the area for the construction of new housing units while Liverpool City Council were keen to build a new access road to "open up" Stonebridge Cross for future development and investment.
As the largest development plot in Liverpool, the site had obvious advantages for the construction of a stadium, not least space, transport links and readiness. Compared with other sites closer to the city, Stonebridge Cross offered a relatively lower cost barrier to entry but it would mean moving Everton more than three miles away from its current location in Walton and five-and-a-half miles from the city centre.
While Stonebridge Cross was evocative of the 2007 Destination Kirkby proposal in that it promised to move Everton to an industrial estate environment on the outskirts of town, an area selected in Liverpool's north docklands area offered the club a second chance of a home on the banks of the Mersey, a decade and a half after the doomed Kings Dock project was first mooted.
While it was initially reported that the Board were looking at a site at Trafalgar Dock, it was later confirmed that a more ambitious proposal was being explored three docks up at Bramley-Moore Dock, one which would keep the club closer to the city centre and provide the opportunity to build something special on one of the world's most famous waterfronts.
Not surprisingly, it immediately became the option most favoured by supporters and it was largely confirmed at the January 2017 Annual General Meeting that it was the more popular choice among the Board as well. CEO Robert Elstone described the club's progress in making it a reality as "solid" but admitted that it remained a very complex project.
In contrast to the Croxteth site, the docks option would require significantly more preparation work and cost, requiring a that a deal be struck with landowner and developer, the Peel Group, and that the dock itself be filled in to create the footprint for the stadium. A heads of terms agreement with Peel was announced in March 2017, placing the first stepping stone in place towards a potentially iconic stadium on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey.
Land purchase agreement
Everton took a huge step towards leaving Goodison Park after 125 years with the news in March 2017 that the club had negotiated a land-purchase agreement with Peel Group for Bramley-Moore Dock.
Additionally, a funding mechanism was worked out with Liverpool Council whereby Everton would fully fund the stadium but with LCC as guarantors of the required loans for the estimated £300m project which would potentially see the Blues kicking off in their new ground in 2021.
Everton's stadium at Bramley-Moore to be part of Peels' £5bn Liverpool Waters regeneration scheme which promises to transform the waterfront along Regent Road north of Prince's Dock while the LCC-backed Ten Streets initiative hoped to regenerate the derelict section along Great Howard immediately to the east.
Everton are believed to have negotiated a price of around £22.5m for the site on Liverpool's north docks with commencement of construction dependent on planning permission, the application for which was to be submitted either later in 2017 or early in 2018, and the funding being in place. The club's business plan provided for them staying at Goodison until the end of the 2020-21 season.
A full announcement from the Council via the LiverpoolExpress website outlined the creation of a "special purpose vehicle" whereby LCC would guarantee the loans, receive a security fee (reported to be around £4m a year) for its trouble and take out a 40-year lease on the site from the funder that they would then sub-lease to Everton. The club could then have the option of acquiring a leasehold interest in the stadium.
The arrangement did not involve any capital from the council but it allowed Everton to secure funding for the project from a wider spectrum of lenders and most likely at significantly lower interest rates than if they were to go it alone as a higher-risk entity. The initial cost analysis was based on a 50,000-capacity stadium but Blues CEO Robert Elstone insisted at the time that the final details were yet to be decided and that supporters would be included in a full consultation.
Map of Liverpool showing the location of Bramley-Moore Dock in relation to Goodison Park in Walton
The architectural firm charged with designing Everton's new home is Meis Architects, an American studio based in Los Angeles, California with an extensive portfolio of sporting clients and stadium projects under their belts.
In addition to concepts for the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers in the NFL, Meis designed AS Roma's Stadio Della Roma and FC Cincinnati's ground but by owner Dan Meis's own admission, the Bramley-Moore project promised to be a unique assignment and one that quickly became a passion for him. As he wrote in a blog post on his studio's website in September 2017:
I will always remember the words of Robert Elstone: "It should be a 'cauldron of energy', with the steepest stands right on top of the pitch, and a massive home end!" From that moment, I was hooked.
A few weeks later I saw my first game at Goodison, and I fell in love. Like all attractions, there is something magnetic or chemical about it that truly does make one feel like you are "chosen". I knew at that moment that it was different than any project I had ever pursued or any team I have ever followed... it was in my blood.
Given Everton's illustrious history, the club's list of "firsts", particularly where its home ground is concerned, and the magic of Goodison Park, few supporters, if any, anticipated or obsessed over the proposed design of their new stadium like Evertonians. That places an enormous burden of expectation on Meis's team but it was a challemge he relished. He continued:
I believe that the historic fabric of the dock is a priceless asset that will help inform a state of the art stadium unlike any other on the planet and one that will capture the magic and memory of Goodison Park. I am striving for a design that feels like it "grew from the Docks" and can simultaneously look like it is from the future and yet has always been there.
Innovation doesn't always mean that a building has the latest bells and whistles, it can often be when a design is reduced to the very essence of its function.
Someone recently tweeted to me that modern English stadiums are no longer intimate or intimidating... that they can't be because of modern regulations etc. To that person I say, "just wait, and see".