The Ricoh Arena is to set to undergo huge changes – including the building of a new sports bar and restaurant and a significant renovation of its exhibition halls – as it welcomes a new ‘long-term’ tenant.

CoventryLive can exclusively reveal the latest projects in an overall ‘masterplan’ for the Wasps Group-owned arena, that also includes the signing of a long-term deal to host ‘elite’ behind-closed-doors sporting events as well as the previously-announced hotel plans and a new pavilion to help host the Commonwealth Games.

An official announcement regarding the identity of the new tenant is expected before the end of the week but Wasps Group chief executive Stephen Vaughan confirmed it was a ‘large rental, long-term’ deal.

“Everyone is going through a tough time at the moment,” said Vaughan. “We’ve got a lot of tough decisions to make. In the same breath, because of the UK City of Culture 2021, because of the Commonwealth Games, the Rugby League World Cup, we’ve got a number of events we’re looking forward to putting on for city and for  the region.

“We’re also close to announcing a large rental deal for a large piece of the office space. We’ve got a long-term deal.

“We’ve also just signed a long-term deal with Matchroom Sport so we will be hosting a number of their behind-closed-doors events for snooker, pool, darts, the World Championships etc, for a period of time. That’s massive business for us. That’s not just utilising the arena, it’s also commercialising the hotel.”

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It is hoped that construction on the  new hotel will commence at the end of the first quarter of next year. During the same time period, the Ericsson Hall will also be undergoing a revamping project with new partitions and flooring.

CoventryLive reported in August that the Ricoh Arena is to receive £3.8m of the government’s Getting Building Fund, made available via Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), after successfully securing the investment from £66 million worth of Government funding that was provided to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Additionally, £1.4m was also made available via CWLEP from the Local Growth Fund and Growing Places Fund.

New pavilion

The combined £5.3m project will see a new pavilion at the south entrance of the venue, in which a Commonwealth Convention Centre will be housed.

The stadium is due to hosts judo and wrestling events at the 2022 Commonwealth Games as well as the rugby sevens.

Focusing on the bar/restaurant project, which will be located where the Wasps club shop is now, Mr Vaughan added: “That’s going to be a standalone fantastic facility for us.

“It’s not only going to be used by hotel guests, and conference and exhibition guests, but it’ll be a venue in its own right.

“It’s going to help that north east Coventry footprint as part of our bigger masterplan, new hotels, sports bar, revamping of all the halls. Adding to the long-term tenant, adding to the pool, the darts, the snooker etc, there’s actually quite a lot of really good things going on.”

Financial worries

Vaughan, who joined Wasps from the rugby club’s Premiership rivals Gloucester last summer, is part of a Premiership Rugby-wide task force that is currently in dialogue with government ministers regarding what assistance can be provided to its teams.

While Premier League football has continued with big-money transfers this summer despite playing before empty stadiums, the elite level of rugby union has already cut player wages by 25 per cent, with many – including Wasps – making members of staff redundant.

Club owners and CEOs claim they face going out of business in under six months if financial assistance isn’t provided or fans are not allowed back into stadiums.

Vaughan discussed the progress of those talks and where Wasps are ‘uniquely positioned’ compared to some of their rivals.

“We’re having some really positive dialogue on that and what packages will be available,” he said. “Not just Wasps, by the way, this is on behalf of the whole of the Premiership, to get people solvent, to get people positive again, and then working more importantly getting people back into stadiums as soon as we can.

“We’re in a unique position, many other rugby clubs do rugby and yes they do a bit of conferencing, but it’s tiny, whereas we happen to have, if you looked at it financially, we are an arena with conferencing, exhibitions, concerts, and we also play sport.

“Three quarters of our business or more comes via non-sporting entity and, actually, some of those areas are actually going quite well, by us being quite flexible about what we can do.

“As such, we’ve got some fairly good commercial revenues coming through in non-traditional sources I guess. It’s not all doom and gloom.”

The Ricoh Arena has hosted many big names in music, including The Spice Girls, The Rolling Stones and Oasis as well as Olympic events and more over the years.

It is currently housing a regional coronavirus testing centre.

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