Wembley misses goal Stadium redevelopment in doubt after company fails to make repayment

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The Independent Online
WEMBLEY, the debt-laden company that owns Britain's national football venue, has missed a £40m debt repayment to its bankers, due by the end of November.

The news casts doubts over the group's continued refinancing, as well as its recently unveiled plans for a radical redevelopment of Wembley Stadium.

The company blames the non-payment on its failure to sell its US dog tracks. The missed payment includes interest and capital. Wembley owed its bankers £34.9m in long-term debt, according to August figures. But short-term debt had ballooned to £127.4m, up from £63m.

Wembley's 20-strong group of lenders are taking a relaxed view. A spokesman for Barclays said it would be against the best interests of Wembley's customers and the lending banks to "engage in any precipitate action".

"No decisions have been reached," said Paul Baines, a managing director at Charterhouse, lead adviser to the company. "We are looking at all the options."

There is no guarantee now that the group will proceed with its mooted £50m rights issue, although a debt-for-equity swap is still on the cards.

Management has embarked on the first stage of an ambitious plan to redevelop the stadium. Last week it revealed plans for a massive face-lift, which would retain only the distinctive twin towers of the original structure. Prodded into action, not least by the Football Association, it accepts the necessity of preserving Wembley as the UK's top venue after its contract with the FA expires in 2002.

It has also had an unsolicited approach from Genesis, a consortium including construction group John Laing and Guinness Mahon and led by StadiVarios, a company that says it wants to revolutionise British sports venues. Genesis submitted its own designs for redeveloping the building in May.

On Thursday Premier League chief Rick Parry confirmed he has the backing of the football clubs to invest up to £60m in a new national venue somewhere in Britain. Rebuilding Wembley would be costly, requiring at least £150m. The company says it is too early to comment on how it might fund its own initiative. If its venue is not chosen, the new national stadium will be built in Manchester or Birmingham.

Unless Wembley can match the Premier League, or any other external investor, it may find its best asset, the stadium, is a white elephant. Shares closed unchanged at 5p on Friday.