BCFC: The Wheels Project

On Thursday afternoon councillors on Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Committee for property will meet to discuss and potentially accept a report to sell a chunk of land in Bordesley to an outside party. While there has been no official confirmation as to who the purchaser of the land is, it has been widely reported that it is Birmingham City who are to buy the land for the purpose of a new stadium.

We are Birmingham

It’s not exactly new news that Blues have been linked with buying the land which is known as the Wheels site, but it’s the first time we’ve seen any kind of official confirmation that the deal is happening.

With no comment having been made by the club and very limited information released by the council I thought it might be an idea to round up exactly what has happened and talk about what the next steps are for Blues.

What We Know

As early as takeover day last year I’d heard that there was a deal in the works for the new Knighthead regime to obtain the land from the Council, but complications were created when Birmingham City Council issued a section 114 notice in September 2023, effectively declaring itself bankrupt.

While the news was reported by the Birmingham Mail on Tuesday evening, it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I saw the Council report linked by the BBC.

Despite some headlines saying that the club have already bought the land, the council have not yet given approval to go ahead with selling the land before the committee meets at 2pm on Thursday March 28.

The report to the committee, which I have linked here confirms that Birmingham City Council have received an unsolicited offer for the site and seeks approval from the property committee of Birmingham City Council’s cabinet to dispose of the land.

Due to the commercial sensitivity surrounding pricing, the actual cost details of the deal are not public, however from the report what we do know is that the as yet unnamed third party have agreed to pay the Council’s reasonable and proper surveyor and legal costs on completion.

The Economy and Skills Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the council carried out a pre-decision scrutiny last week on March 20 and have provided their recommendations in another redacted appendix to the report.

The report also confirms that the transaction would comply with the Financial Recovery Plan that the Council is currently working under, and that site remediation is already underway thanks to a £17m grant from the Levelling Up Fund.

Assuming that approval is given, solicitors acting on behalf of the Council will then “negotiate, execute and complete” all relevant documentation to give effect to the recommendation made in the report.

That legal process will undoubtedly have a continued effect on what Blues can comment on the transaction – and it might not be for some time that we fully know the extent of what Tom Wagner and Knighthead have planned for the site.

What Does This Mean?

Despite the plethora of clickbait articles that have been created from this news, in reality little has officially changed.

We still don’t have official confirmation that it is the club buying the site, and assuming it is the club we have no idea yet of the timeframe it will take to complete the purchase, let alone building a new stadium.

However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot see this as a positive step.

During the saga that was the takeover process, there were times when it felt like it was going to go on forever and that we would never see a completion.

Yet in the end, we got there – thanks to the multitude of small legal steps taken that allowed the process to continue forwards.

I see this in the same light.

Up until yesterday, I wasn’t sure how any sale of the Wheels site would happen due to the financial strife that the city council is going through.

I had a genuine fear that the appointment of the commissioners could make the process impossible for Blues.

With the production of this report, I feel much more confident that things are happening as they should.

The report documentation available to us shows that the Commissioners appointed by the government to oversee the council’s return to financial health have backed this proposed sale.

The report also confirms that the sale meets all legal compliances required, which leads me to think it should be not much more than a rubber stamp from the property committee to approve taking the transaction forward.

And while it might be a while before it’s confirmed that Knighthead are the ones to take it forward, Tom Wagner and his cohorts have built up enough credibility in my mind to have faith that this is their show.

I guess the question is now what happens next.

What Happens Next?

On April 9, Blues host their second Open House evening which has “Ambition” as its theme and will focus on infrastructure and fan experience.

I have to admit I think it might be a little too soon for the club to confirm new stadium plans – although I absolutely accept I could be very wrong in this instance.

However, I think what we will see from the club is some of the ideas that they have going forwards to improve both the matchday experience but also the amount of revenue the club makes from the stadium.

And while for some it might seem daft to upgrade any of St Andrew’s with a very real prospect of moving to a new stadium within a decade, I think there are some very good reasons for trying to improve the current ground as much as feasibly possible.

While I’m sure Wagner and co have an overarching vision for the club, I do believe that the actual nuts and bolts of implementation of that vision is something that is being continually refined.

And while I know that people like Garry Cook have extensive experience in football, I’m also sure that there will still be things that need to be tested to show that they can viably work as part of the overall package that the club offers on a matchday.

For example, the creation of The Alliance lounge gave Knighthead an insight into how successful it could be to market a truly luxurious matchday experience for top level clients and would-be partners.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the club were looking into where else in the ground it would be able to create lounges that offer upgraded experiences in an attempt to improve the levels of commercial income the club brings in.

Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if the club took a look at things like press facilities in the main stand with a view to seeing what works best for when the club moves into a new state of the art version at Wheels.

Using a little bit of trial and error now could help eliminate expensive mistakes when building a new stadium.

While the average fan might be a miffed at the idea of new facilities for the “prawnie brigade”, I think it’s absolutely vital that Blues make as much money from those kinds of revenue streams.

The more Blues can maximise revenue from premium lounges and ticketing, the more they can afford to subsidise lower prices for those sat in the ordinary seats.

The more things that Knighthead can learn from the way things work at St Andrew’s, the more likely it is that fewer errors will be made in the way that a new ground is designed and set up.

I know that there is a subset of fans who are truly convinced that Blues are cursed to suffer and that nothing good can ever happen to the club.

As much as I can empathise with those fans, news stories like the potential purchase of Wheels only go to show how far the club can go positively.

And while there are those fans who openly wonder how the club can sell out a huge stadium when currently 25k+ crowds appear a stretch, I think the time has come for us as fans to shift our emphasis in the same way that Knighthead has shifted the narrative at Blues from the old BSH ways.

The time is coming where we need to think about just how far the club can go, and how high we can fly.

Forget comparing ourselves to the mob from across the expressway, forget the “typical Blues” mantra.

The future is becoming brighter than ever. Sit back and enjoy the ride.