Bristol Rugby's UWE Stadium move is still alive, insists Nick Higgs
BRISTOL Rovers chairman Nick Higgs remains optimistic that Bristol Rugby Club will move to the UWE Stadium with the Pirates.
But he told shareholders at the club's annual meeting that they were already looking at "alternatives" if the rugby club do decide to go elsewhere.
Bristol Rugby confirmed earlier this month that they have been taken over by Bristol City owner Steve Lansdown.
And although they have signed a contract to continue their groundshare arrangement at the Memorial Stadium for next season, Lansdown has not ruled out a move to either Ashton Gate or possibly City's proposed new stadium at Ashton Vale some time in the future.
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Higgs, however, has again made clear his hope that the ruby club will follow Rovers to their proposed £40 million 21,700-capacity stadium in Frenchay, which they hope to move into in 2014 – and confirmed it would be 100 per cent owned by Rovers.
Higgs said: "I have had several conversations with the rugby club chairman Chris Booy, who continues to express an interest in coming with us.
"If they did go somewhere else, it would mean some loss of income for us in terms of events, bar takings and catering.
"But we are looking at alternatives if that were to be the case and talking to other people who could take their place – although I can't go into details as they are confidential.
"But the rugby club have been good tenants and I do hope they come with us – I would be disappointed if that wasn't the case."
Higgs was asked whether there was any possibility that Lansdown could buy the Memorial Stadium – which is key to funding Rovers' new stadium project – and allow Bristol to remain at their spiritual home.
But the chairman said: "That is simply not possible. We have signed a contract with Sainsbury's for a mixed-use development. Even if we were offered double the price, it is a binding contract and we can not walk away from it, so it isn't an issue."
Rovers' latest annual figures – covering the year ending last June – showed an operating loss of almost £2 million and overall losses of £3.4 million, but director of finance Toni Watola told the meeting the club had since made "a dramatic reduction in players' wage costs commensurate with League Two."
Manager Mark McGhee told supporters he still felt the budget available to him was "competitive" for the division and he was optimistic about the club's future – although he admitted he had to overcome "a psychological barrier" before opting to take his first job in the Football League's bottom tier.
"Whenever I have managed in League One before, I have got out of it fairly quickly and the clubs have returned to the Championship," he said.
"I did have to overcome a bit of a psychological barrier to come here, but I had a phone call from a friend of mine who knew more about the club than me and said I ought to consider it.
"When I met the board and saw their ambition and heard their vision for the future, I was impressed – especially with plans for the new stadium."