Caspian unveils huge Leeds arena plan

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The Independent Online
Caspian, owner of Leeds United football club, yesterday unveiled plans to create the biggest sporting and entertainment arena in the country after Wembley. Leeds is spending pounds 40m developing a huge arena next to its Elland Road ground. The new complex will open by 2,000 and hold at least 180 events a year. The 14,000 seater arena will show Leeds Lasers' Superleague ice hockey games and basketball matches. The rest of the time it will be host to pop concerts, entertainment extravaganzas on ice, hit theatre shows and conferences and exhibitions. City analysts estimate the arena's box office could take around pounds 15m a year, similar to Manchester's huge Nynex centre.

Situated between the M1 and M62 motorways, the 50-acre scheme will include a new 200-bedroom hotel and a range of themed bars and restaurants. Caspian is opening talks with hotel and drinks groups to build the facilities and its bankers to finance the deal. The plans also involve the redevelopment of the West stand at the Elland Road stadium, which will increase the ground's seating capacity from 40,000 to 45,000.

Lengthy delays in agreeing the deal were linked with the departure of Robert Launders, Caspian's former chief executive. However, Leeds Council has finally agreed to let Caspian acquire the majority of the 50-acre site for pounds 11.3m. The deal includes the acquisition of the freehold of Elland Road and the arena site which is currently a car park. The group plans to take control of the rest of the site shortly. Caspian is changing its name to Leeds United Holdings, reflecting the importance of the new scheme.

Chris Akers, Leeds chairman said: "This is a big club with a big name. Our aim is to create one of Europe's leading sports, leisure and media groups."

Caspian made a pro-forma loss of pounds 6.2m for the year to June, having spent a net pounds 11.8m on new players and incurring a12 per cent rise in its wage bill. Since the year end it has also splashed out another pounds 3.5m on players but said it had more money to strengthen manager George Graham's squad.

Caspian confirmed plans to set up its own pay-TV channel by the start of the next football season. But it has not chosen which broadcaster to team up with and is still in talks with several parties including Granada and BSkyB.

Leeds continues to talk with other clubs on the Continent to create a joint merchandising and media business. It also hopes to sign a deal soon with a Far East group to distribute its club merchandise in Asia.

Leeds plans to take advantage of the growing popularity of its internet website by selling advertising. The site has already attracted 1 million internet surfers a week.

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