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Why Atlético Madrid looks set to stay at the Vicente Calderón stadium

Row between City Hall and regional government hikes cost of formerly free move to €40m

A view of the construction work at La Peineta stadium in March.
A view of the construction work at La Peineta stadium in March.

Atlético Madrid soccer club’s planned moved from its Vicente Calderón ground in the south of the Spanish capital to La Peineta stadium on the northeastern outskirts looks likely to face further, possibly permanent delays.

Disagreement between Madrid City Hall and the regional administration means the La Liga side now faces extra costs of up to €40 million on the initially agreed deal.

The move was originally scheduled for 2012, but has been repeatedly delayed

The club has said it was originally told the move would cost it nothing, and says it will not pay, preferring to wait until a decision is reached on who will run City Hall and the regional government following last month’s closely contested elections.

The left-leaning Ahora Madrid platform potentially took enough seats to form an administration with the support of the Socialist Party at the municipal level, while in the regional vote, the Popular Party (PP) won the most seats, but needs the support of the center-right Ciudadanos platform to take control.

Appeals threaten Calderón property development

Madrid’s regional High Court in April annulled a plan approved in 2009 by City Hall that allowed Atlético Madrid’s owners to build 2,000 apartments on the site of the Vicente Calderón. The court also put forward arguments that would negatively affect the new plan approved by City Hall to substitute the previous one. This second plan has been the subject of appeals by local residents and environmental groups.

The 2009 plan was annulled for infringing regional zoning laws: the project foresaw the construction of two 17-story tower blocks, when legislation approved by the regional government in 2007 limited all new buildings in the region to four floors.

The 2014 plan, still in place, but awaiting a judicial ruling, also includes buildings higher than that limit – two 36-floor apartment blocks, along with eight others of 22 floors. The regional government changed its zoning laws in April 2013 in a bid to unblock the planned construction project on the site of the Vicente Calderón stadium, along with another at the northern end of the Castellana boulevard, close to the Cuatro Torres complex of skyscrapers. But in its April ruling, the judges decided that any buildings forming part of the Calderón project should be limited to four floors.

The current plan is still valid, but could be annulled by the court when it looks at the complaints filed by environmental groups.

The saga of the Calderón dates back to 2004, when the then-PP mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, announced a plan to convert La Peineta into an Olympic-capacity stadium as part of the city’s bid for the Games. In keeping with legacy requirements that Olympic infrastructure be used after the event, Ruiz-Gallardón signed a deal in December 2009 with Atlético Madrid that would have seen the side move to La Peineta in 2012. The move has been repeatedly delayed since then, and ultimately was scheduled for 2017.

But the original agreement required Atlético to buy or rent the land where La Peineta was to be built – the former stadium was deemed valueless because of its “serious deterioration” and was earmarked to be demolished. The municipally owned land, covering around 88,150 meters, was valued at €41 million. The club was also required to carry out the work to convert the new stadium, which was to seat 73,000 spectators (20,000 more than the Calderón) and valued at €195 million.

To cover these costs, the club signed an agreement with construction company FCC and the Mahou brewery, which owns land next to the Calderón, to build 2,000 apartments on the site. But FCC said in November that the numbers no longer added up, given the fall in house prices as a result of the economic crisis.

In February of that year, Atlético contacted City Hall to try to renegotiate the La Peineta deal. The agreement was to give the club the land on a concession basis until April 2017 to carry out building work. Once finished, Atlético would be allowed to buy the site and thus become the full owner of the stadium. The price stipulated in the agreement rose to €41.2 million, but has since been brought up to date based on a valuation of €44.5 million.

From that figure, around €4.4 million would have to be discounted for the installation of permanent municipal emergency services on the land, along with a further €6.2 million already paid to City Hall by the club through the handover of 126,395 tickets for matches between 2009 and 2014 (a formula outlined in the agreement).

That left a final price of €33.9 million. But for the sale to go ahead it was necessary to change zoning laws: the plot of land in question had been registered for public sporting use, and so could not be sold off.

Four obstacles to the stadium move

The high price of land. Atlético would have to pay up to €78 million for the La Peineta stadium, almost twice the price originally agreed with City Hall.

The negotiations with FCC. The cost of La Peineta was supposed to be covered in part by the sale of 2,000 apartments on the site of the Vicente Calderón stadium, but FCC says the numbers don’t add up.

Legal threats. Environmentalists and local residents have objected to the planned construction project.

Political changes. Madrid’s new mayor, Manuela Carmena, is opposed to selling public land and may veto the sale of La Peineta.

The changes to zoning regulations planned by City Hall would convert La Peineta into land for private use, thus allowing Atlético to buy it. But when City Hall tried to make the change, it ran into opposition from its own party, which runs the regional government.

The regional government said Atlético would have to pay €78 million, almost double the original figure. At this point, Atlético decided to halt the operation and leave any decision until after the new city and regional administrations were in place in the wake of May’s elections.

Ahora Madrid’s Manuela Carmena, who is expected to be invested as the capital’s mayor on June 13 with the support of the Socialist Party, is opposed to selling off public land, which would put an end to Atlético’s plans to move to La Peineta, at least for the next five years.

The agreement signed in 2007 provided for two alternatives in the event that Atlético was unable to buy the land on which La Peineta stands. The first would be to move to the stadium and pay rent of €1.6 million a year for the next 75 years. The club has ruled this out, say sources close to Atlético Madrid.

The second option would be for Atlético to stay at its current ground and be compensated by City Hall for work it has already carried out on La Peineta. This figure would likely be more than €200 million.