Barr ponders turning Olympic arena into 'Andy Murray' academy

Exclusive: Barr Construction wants to convert its Olympic Basketball Arena into a Scottish tennis centre of excellence following calls for investment in the sport from tennis star Andy Murray.

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Olympic gold medal winner and US Open champion Andy Murray said this week that he wanted to see a new national tennis academy built in Scotland in addition to the national centre for tennis based at the University of Stirling.

CN has learned that owner of the basketball arena Barr Construction will hold talks to convert the 12,000 capacity arena into a tennis centre of excellence as one of several options being considered.

Others include converting the arena into a football centre of excellence in east Scotland, or forming part of a new leisure development in the south of England.

The mayors of Rio and London had discussed the arena being moved to Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games, but the move is now unlikely to materialise, with Barr exploring discussions with several interested bidders in order to avoid the “nightmare” option of scrapping the stadium.

Rio’s interest

Organisers of the Rio games had wanted the capacity of the arena extended from 12,000 to 18,000 seats. Barr were able to add seating grids to extend capacity to 16,000, but those constraints plus high import charges in Brazil look to have scuppered the bid.

Barr Construction visited Rio in January to talk to organisers about the potential to move the arena to the next Olympic Games.

Barr’s managing director Barclay Chalmers told CN: “When we first priced the job we wondered whether its legacy use may be good for Glasgow 2014 but it became clear when the mayors of Rio and London were talking they thought it would be good for Rio.

“We did some work on the arena so we could utilise everything and still comply with building regulations and we managed to increase the capacity to 16,000 but they thought 18,000 was important [in order] to commit.”

Mr Chalmers said that high import duty charges meant that the stadium being bought by Rio would have had a heavy cost, and organisers asked Barr to lease the stadium to them instead.

He said: “That wasn’t an attractive option for us. Between shipping it and having it erected and then after three years having to take it away again wasn’t a commercially viable option. The momentum went and the trail has gone a bit cold but we have had a number of other enquiries on it.”

Mr Chalmers said: “We are keen to move it to its resting place as one, co-ordinated operation. The last thing we want is to have to scrap it – that would be a nightmare. We are in discussions with the legacy bodies who require us to be there in January so if we don’t have a permanent venue we will have to make a decision.”

He added: “Because it has effectively been bought and paid for, there would be a considerable discount on the original price. We would like to resolve it as soon as we can to cut down on transport and storage costs.”

Tennis academy

Among the future options for the arena is, following Andy Murray’s success in winning gold at the Olympics and claiming the US Open this month, turning it into a tennis centre of excellence.

The Olympic champion, and his mother and tennis coach Judy Murray, met with Socttish first minister Alex Salmond on Sunday to discuss the idea of a new tennis academy.

Barr estimates the basketball arena - which is 140 metres long, 96m wide and 33m high - could hold between 15 and 20 tennis courts.

Mr Chalmers said: “There has been a huge increase in interest in tennis thanks to Andy’s wins and that is an avenue we think would be worth re-energising. The tennis options would be an important one to follow-up. Another would be a centre of excellence for football.”

Barr Construction has previously built major sports villages at Stirling and Aberdeen, where Aberdeen football club have trained on the full-size indoor pitch.

Barr has also held talks with a un-named developer about the arena forming a central part of a new sport and leisure development in the south of England.

Though Mr Chalmers would not give the name of the client due to ongoing discussions, he said it represented the “biggest interest” of the viable options for the arena’s future home, though Barr is still seeking offers for the stadium.

Olympic contract

Barr won the £58 million contract to build and own the stadium in July 2009. It rented the venue to the Olympic Delivery Authority for use in the Olympics and Paralympics and will start stripping out the stadium in January.

Mr Chalmers said: “We are keen to move it to its resting place as one, co-ordinated operation. The last thing we want is to have to scrap it – that would be a nightmare. We are in discussions with the legacy bodies who require us to be there in January so if we don’t have a permanent venue we will have to make a decision.”

He added: “Because it has effectively been bought and paid for, there would be a considerable discount on the original price. We would like to resolve it as soon as we can to cut down on transport and storage costs.”

Mr Chalmers added that the arena could still go to Rio if main contractors on the 2016 games were interested in buying the stadium under a form of PFI deal favoured by Brazilian authorities for the 2016 Olympics.

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