Viola’s Mercafir stadium plan may end up as pipe dream

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Fiorentina new stadium renderings February 2020 update - Mercafir Image: Pierattelli Architetture

The Italian Serie A football club Fiorentina based at Florence in Tuscany, Italy, seems quite perturbed and unsettled over the proposed Mercafir site for a new facility. The club has put forward multiple concerns and has said that if cost and timing issues are not addressed its willingness to go ahead with the development will “quickly fade”.

The owner and Chairman of the club, Rocco B Commisso, has nixed Florence Mayor Dario Nardella and his office’s proposed price for the celebrated Mercafir site as a possible new stadium location based on the €22 million price tag for the land, not to speak of the various other improvements that would further spiral the cost, especially since there’s no guarantee about the quality of the land or a contractual date for completion of the construction, which are both sticking points for the Viola.

Tender for the long-desired Mercafir plot is now open, but Fiorentina maintain that the terms set make it prohibitive. The club is now looking around for a more reasonably priced and suitable piece of land in and around Florence.

Earlier, the Mercafir area, a food and beverage market in north-eastern Florence, was pinpointed for the stadium.

In the early part of February this year, Florence floated its tender for the sale of land with the current Mercafir market. Plot to the west of Florence which spreads across 15 hectares of land was evaluated to be worth €22 million, which is the minimum that any bidder can put forward. Offers are accepted until April 7, 2020.

But, the real issue lies in – the Serie A football club is in no mood to participate in the tender in its current form and spirit despite having a concept ready for the site. Explains Commisso, “In addition to the €22 million, which from the beginning we declared was too high in our opinion, there are other direct costs to be borne by Fiorentina that make the overall price truly prohibitive.”

He made it clear in no uncertain terms that there was “zero possibility of the stadium being built at Mercafir, if conditions remain as they are”.

Commisso asserted that direct associated costs of the transaction would amount to €28 million which includes not only reclamation of the area, urbanization works (roads and infrastructure), but also registration fees and a series of consultancy assignments.

The tender being floated does not warrant that Mercafir would be cleared upon sale, the pollution angle of the ground is still not known, which may cause serious problems not just financially but also in terms of timeline.

“Our announced commitment in October 2019 to proceed with the Mercafir option was conditioned on a four-year timeframe to complete the construction of the stadium by September 2023. We are now looking at an eight-month delay in that schedule already at this early stage, while there are no measures in place to ensure that further delays don’t occur in the future, despite the good intentions of the administration,” a statement sent out by Fiorentina read.

Huge blow

The whole development is a huge blow for Fiorentina, which has publicly showed its willingness to move into the former supermarket (read Mercafir) for years and, with the fresh energy brought by Commisso, the club may have hoped to finally clinch that much-awaited deal. Following reports that redecorating the famed Stadio Artemio Franchi (Fiorentina’s home ground) would cost a bomb for the club or the city, the club is probably looking at a stadium in a suburb like Bagno a Ripoli or Scandicci.

Commisso is eager to pursue three paths with regards to the stadium. The first is to continue working with Mayor Nardella and the city on the Mercafir site. By all standards, this is the best bet for everybody, as it will keep the Viola inside the city limits of Florence. Mercafir has vast amount of space for parking and retail space and is easily accessible by foot, bus, and private vehicle.

The next option is a move to another, as-yet-undetermined location within the city of Florence. While keeping the stadium within the city limits is the best proposition, but there are quite a few reasons while new constructions are not happening in Florence. The real reason being buying just a bit of the earth’s surface in one of the oldest, most-developed cities of Italy is way too expensive.

The final option is to move outside of the city limits. Campo Bisenzio (just west of the airport) has popped up as an option, as there’s a pretty good plot of land available on the Via Allende, but, as has been mentioned, Scandicci and Bagno a Ripoli remain possibilities.

All said and done, Fiorentina is Florence’s team, and moving it to a suburb is not a great move, even though the decision allows for an avant-garde, club-owned facility.

Ultimately, everything is back to square one – waiting for various processes to work their way through the system. Rocco is pulling out all stops to ensure that everything falls into place.

What next?

Last year, news was doing the rounds that reconstruction of Artemio Franchi could be up for consideration again. It is most likely that the club would relocate outside Florence proper. Recently, Commisso met the Mayor of Campi Bisenzio, a commune in the metropolitan city of Florence.

While Mercafir is 4 km away from city center, almost at a shouting distance, Campi is 11 km away. The advantage is that Campi offers more land at a lower price (up to 38 hectares worth some €15 million), but transportation coupled with communication bottleneck is a major issue. The land lies beside one of the main roads but apart from vehicular access there’s no other way to reach the site. The nearest railway station is 8 km to the south, while Florence’s new tram network would reach this area only in the very last phase of its construction, with the extension of yet-to-be-built Line 4.

Commisso thanked the Mayor but made it clear that this is right now not in the club’s grand scheme of things, but rather an option. He also appealed to the Mayors of the nearby towns and boroughs to come forward with alternative proposals.

Barely few hours had passed that Commisso made the plea, the Mayor of Figline e Incisa Valdarno (another commune in Florence) responded, offering land in his area. The town is 20 km south east of Florence, so the distance is even more. However here, the high point is that aside from a highway link, there is an existing railway line which could be used.

Fiorentina has played at the Stadio Artemio Franchi since it opened in 1931 and there has been talk of a new ground for nearly a decade.

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