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Future Old Trafford’s Regeneration Already In The Spotlight

Only the most captivating developments really manage to stand out at Mipim: hundreds of them are on full display all week long. Exhibitors have to push the boundaries to catch eyeballs. Virtual reality tours, multi-sensory video presentations, high-profile promoters and generous drinks reception are all part of the mix to grab the spotlight at the real estate gathering in Cannes.

The regeneration of Old Trafford did not have any of that. In fact, Manchester United officially set the whole initiative in motion only a few days before Mipim started on March 8. And yet, the project was on everybody’s lips around the Manchester pavilion.

“There’s a huge potential there,” says Eamonn Boylan, CEO of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. “But it is yet to be determined what is deliverable in the short, medium, long term.”

Old Trafford is one of the oldest sports arenas in the whole world. The 74,310 seater has been the home of Manchester United since it was first built in 1910. It survived German bombs, numerous renovations and the ups and downs of the club itself.

Its aura has grown over the years and climaxed during the golden age of Sir Alex Ferguson, when the Red Devils dominated at home and in Europe. But the time when the ‘theatre of dreams’ used to set the standard for UK football venues is long gone. Today, Old Trafford is more of a laggard compared with some of the country’s newest arenas like Wembley, Tottenham’s White Hart Lane, West Ham’s Olympic stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, all of which offer fans top-class leisure experiences and stand at the heart of major urban regenerations that transcended the football ground itself.

Things hit a turning point on March 8, when the club announced a task force to investigate options to regenerate Old Trafford and thus turn into reality one of the big ambitions of its new minority shareholder, Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

In line with other such projects, a new Old Trafford can give momentum to the regeneration of the surrounding areas, points out Mr Boylan, who is part of the task force alongside the likes of Lord Sebastian Coe, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, and former United captain Gary Neville.

“The task force is at a very, very early stage, it’s still being formed. We need to quickly be clear about the scope and scale of what it is that is being attempted here both on behalf of the club, but also in terms of the wider regeneration of that part of Trafford, with the Trafford council that is already leading the Wharfside regeneration and has ambitions to go further,” says Mr Boylan.

Old Trafford sits at the edges of an area known as Wharfside that sits alongside the Manchester Ship canal across from areas that have already undergone major regeneration such as Media City and Salford Quays. The area also features the Imperial War Museum North and event venue Victoria Warehouse, although industrial warehouses largely dominate the landscape.

The Trafford council approved on February 26 a first draft of the masterplan that will guide the regeneration of the whole Wharfside area and replace some of the existing industrial land with 5000 new homes.

“Trafford Wharfside is an area that will see great change over the next 15 to 20 years,” Liz Patel, Trafford Council’s executive member for economy and regeneration said in a statement on February 27.

The local business community has already welcomed the Old Trafford regeneration project, the price tag for which could reach £2bn.

“The exciting thing for everyone in Manchester is that we have a local boy who has done exceptionally well in Sir Jim Ratcliffe who has put together a very high-profile team led by Lord Coe [to carry out the project]”, Philip Lunn, managing director and co-founder of Pradera Lateral, which manages the Manchester Centre shopping mall about a mile east to Old Trafford, tells fDi. “There is an opportunity for us to work with the club to create a full day-out experience for the fans.”

Even the parties associated with the arch-rival team, Manchester City, did not hide their approval. When asked during a session about whether or not he welcomes the proposal, Marty Edelman, a member of the executive committee of City Football Group, replied succinctly: “Of course we do, why wouldn’t we?”

However, football fans are among the most conservative parties of our society and any such project will need to secure their buy-in, points out a Trafford councillor who prefers to remain anonymous.

It was too early for the Old Trafford regeneration to make a wider splash at Mipim this year. Outside the Manchester pavilion, not many had a sense of it. If it all progresses without hiccups, the chances it will go unnoticed next year are slim.


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