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For Roma, new stadium another game-changer

For Roma, new stadium another game-changer

By John Genzale, Correspondent

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James Pallotta, the American owner of AS Roma, was openly enthusiastic in December after presenting a plan for a new, privately owned stadium to the mayor of Rome. Mayor Ignazio Marino was also enthusiastic, waving a Roma pennant and giving the “futuristic” design raves.

Both realize they are in the initial stages of not merely breaking ground on a 52,000-seat stadium, but breaking with Italian culture and tradition, which has dictated since the construction of the Colosseum, two generations after the birth of Christ, that sports and entertainment facilities in Italy are built, owned and operated by the government.

The only exception of note is the Juventus Stadium in Turin, which opened two years ago. And while that stadium is not publicly owned, the proceeds accrue to the nonprofit club that runs Juventus football.

The proposed stadium in Rome marks a radical departure in Italian sports architecture; it is designed by Americans for the American owners of AS Roma, the Boston-based investment group that introduced American commercialism to Serie A football. It will be privately funded, privately owned and privately operated in the traditional American for-profit manner.

The stadium is planned for a site on the banks of the Tiber called Tor di Valle. It’s about six miles southwest of the historic center of Rome. A horse track there will be demolished. It is served by regular train service and is easily accessible from the GRA, the ring road that circles Rome.

That site is owned by Luca Parnasi, the CEO of Parsitalia, a Roman real estate company. Parnasi is alternately listed as owner of the site and director of the stadium project, but Pallotta’s man overseeing the project is Mark Pannes, the managing director of Raptor Accelerator, who served an interim stint as AS Roma’s CEO before Italo Zanzi got the permanent job.

The architect is Dan Meis, who joined Woods Bagot in 2012 to head its global sports practice. His résumé includes the Staples Center and Lincoln Financial Field. He designed a 52,000-seat facility for Roma, but the design calls for expandability to 60,000, which would meet FIFA requirements to host major international matches.

Pallotta lists among the stadium’s features its adaptability for specific events. “It’s designed as a 52,000-seat stadium for Roma games, but we can hold hundreds of events there. It can be expanded to 60,000 for world-class soccer matches and can go down to 14,000 for Springsteen concerts,” said Pallotta with obvious pride. He said the facility will have a state-of-the art retail component and top-tier amenities for premium and VIP customers.

Meis said, “It will be the best stadium in the world.”

Details on the project are scant. Meis, Pannes and Pallotta all said it is politically imperative to unveil the project to Roma fans before responding to press inquiries. They expect to do that and provide renderings this month.

Neither Pallotta nor Zanzi would be specific about revenue predictions, but Zanzi said, “We expect the revenue from the new stadium to be transformative.”

The stadium’s cost is estimated at $227 million to $289 million (165 to 210 million euro). Ideally, it could open for the 2016-17 season, but that also bucks Italian tradition.

“From concept to construction, it takes seven to 10 years in Italy for a sports project to get off the ground,” said Cino Marchese, a Roman who once ran the Italian Open tennis event and has been a force in Italian sports business for a half-century. He said monumental bureaucracy in Italy, more than culture and tradition, discourages private development of sports facilities.

The Italian Parliament is wrestling with legislation that would allow construction to start within a year of the plan’s submission. The city’s support is equally crucial. After the meeting with AS Roma, the city’s planning director, Giovanni Caudo, and Marino both issued positive statements in the Campidoglio, the Michelangelo-designed piazza fronting city hall.

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