GARETH Roberts has pledged his support to accommodate Bradford Bulls at Horsfall Stadium if they decide to leave Odsal.
The Bradford (Park Avenue) owner is close to sealing a 35-year lease agreement for Horsfall from Bradford Council, while the future of Odsal remains uncertain.
Bulls owner Andrew Chalmers has imposed an internal deadline of Thursday for a decision to be made about where his club will be playing next season, given the current high costs of playing at their historic home due to rent and maintenance.
Moves to Dewsbury Rams or the Bantams’ Valley Parade have been considered, but Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium appears to be the most likely alternative venue if Bulls opt to leave Odsal but remain in the city.
Roberts said: “From our point of view, we think we could work something out.
“There are other considerations though that we’re not in control of and the council would have to be okay with any such move.
“Things like parking and other physical arrangements that would need to be made, would need to be considered and approved.
“We’re not involved in that, so we couldn’t say whether this is going to be possible, from that point of view.
“From a purely playing point of view, it should be.”
Bulls would bring with them a loyal fanbase, the size of which Avenue would not be accustomed to.
A “one-off” match it may have been, but more than 10,000 turned up to see Bulls beat old rivals Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup earlier in the campaign.
Roberts though is confident of what Avenue could do with the capacity for their own future ambitions and accommodating the Bulls.
He said: “I think very quickly we can increase the capacity to about 3500, which we were planning to do anyway with just some additional barriers – not a huge deal.
“We are thinking about adding some moveable stands and things like that, which would actually increase the capacity more towards 4000.
“Those are not difficult to do at Horsfall because the site is so large and we can still preserve the running track for athletics.”
There are already links between the Bulls and Park Avenue, with the clubs forming a partnership last October to share resources where possible.
And Roberts – a self-made multi-millionaire who lives in Texas but was born in Bradford and grew up in Holme Wood – has community at heart and wants to give back to the city that raised him.
He said: “I’m from Bradford and the reason I’m trying to develop Horsfall and Bradford (Park Avenue) is really just for the city of Bradford and the people that are in it.
“Anything we can do to help other sports is something I’d like to do, as long as it doesn’t cost us extra to do it.
“The problem with the Bulls moving right away for next season, is that we had plans to put in a 3G pitch at some point which allows us to increase the usage of the stadium to the point where it is sustainable.”
On that front, the first step in the process for Avenue is getting that all-important lease, which is edging closer according to Roberts.
He said: “I think all the substantive terms have been agreed and it’s just a matter of getting the paperwork finalised, which should not be a major issue.
“But it always takes a little bit more time than you think it should.”
The Avenue owner added it’s difficult to put an exact timeframe on matters as the charity Fields in Trust has ultimate approval of the arrangements.
But one thing Roberts does have control of is how quickly improvements can get going once the deal is done, with several initiatives raring to go at Horsfall.
Roberts said: “The lease allows us to access FA ground improvement funds, which is important.
“The priority is to put a secure fence around the site because currently we have a short wooden fence that is not secure.
“So that needs to be done first and foremost, before any improvements in the ground are made. We need to secure the site.”
From there, the owner lists other future features such as: improved lighting, hospitality, extra facilities (like toilets) and a modest increase in outlets for refreshments.
Looking even further into the distance, Roberts sees implementing a good quality playing surface as being key for any possible long-term arrangement with the Bulls – and also for the community.
He added: “We wanted to see a place where the youth can come in and play games and we want to fill that stadium every day of the week with people enjoying sports.
“That’s a consideration and will need to be addressed regardless of whether the Bulls come or not.”
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