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December 18 2011

Viñoly brought in as Chelsea looks at move to Battersea power station

Architect behind latest failed redesign for London's Battersea power station hired as creative brain behind developer Mike Hussey's plan for stadium for Chelsea football club at the site

Rafael Viñoly, the architect who worked on the most recent failed redesign for Battersea power station in London, has been hired as the creative brain behind developer Mike Hussey's proposal to build a stadium for Chelsea football club at the site.

Viñoly worked on the £5.5bn revamp of the Grade II*-listed London landmark that won planning permission last year, but the plan collapsed a week ago when the power station was put into administration after its owner, the Irish property firm Real Estate Opportunities, failed to repay £324m to its lenders. The 16-hectare site in south-west London, valued at £500m in October, will be put up for sale by the administrators, Ernst & Young, with Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich seen as a frontrunner to acquire it.

Viñoly is collaborating with the architects Kohn Pedersen Fox on the plan put forward by Hussey, a former Land Securities executive. Chelsea has not made a decision to leave its Stamford Bridge home but has appointed Hussey's Almacantar vehicle, along with KPF, to draw up plans for a 55,000-capacity stadium to be situated to the south-east of the power station.

New York-based Viñoly wants to retain as much of the power station as possible, keeping structural changes to a minimum. His new plan is thought to be less ambitious than REO's 750,000 sq metre development of 3,400 homes, as well as shops and offices. The power station's distinct four white chimneys were to be demolished and rebuilt, as they were deemed to be "beyond repair".

But Keith Garner, an architect and member of a local campaign group, said: "Jamming a large football stadium against Battersea power station is a bad idea." The Battersea Power Station Community Group wants the turbine hall turned into an exhibition centre – a showcase for British design and manufacturing – with offices and flats on the upper floors. Garner held up the successful revamp of the former Dean Clough Mills in Halifax, once the world's largest carpet factory, as an example. He has tried to get Google UK interested, which is based in nearby Victoria and needs more space.

REO's lenders, Lloyds Banking Group and Ireland's National Management Asset Agency, are keen to recoup their money. Nama is thought to prefer Chelsea, while other potential bidders for Battersea include the Malaysian property group SP Setia, UK developers including Berkeley, Development Securities and British Land, along with sovereign wealth funds and private equity firms such as Blackstone.


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June 04 2011

Roman Abramovich upsets the Venetians as he blocks the view

Russian billionaire and girlfriend Dasha Zhukova are major players at Biennale, but locals call mega-yacht 'idiotic'

Rock stars tethered their jet skis to the back of it during the film festival in Cannes, its clean lines have impressed quayside onlookers in Antibes, and England footballer Frank Lampard is reportedly set to propose to his television presenter girlfriend on board.

There can be no doubt that Roman Abramovich's enormous yacht Luna is enjoying the spotlight this summer as it tours the Mediterranean. But the citizens of Venice, a city more familiar than most with extravagant displays of wealth down the centuries, are not impressed.

The Russian oligarch's £115m, 377ft behemoth moored unannounced last week at one of the city's most stunning lagoon locations, as Abramovich and his girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, pitched up for the Venice Biennale.

Local residents, accustomed to stunning views over St Mark's Basin, found themselves staring straight at the twin helipads and bulletproof windows of the vessel, which dwarfs all rival yachts at what has become an annual reunion of some of the most expensive private vessels in the world.

First to complain was Venice's mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, who is threatening a new tax on vessels such as the Luna. "The boats are getting too big and blocking the view," he said. "These yachts are showing up to see Venice for free, but St Mark's Basin is being turned into a motorway and we have to start limiting the traffic."

Marco Paolini, co-owner of the Caffè Florian on St Mark's Square, whose artsy customers launched the Biennale in 1895, condemned the "idiotic" presence of Abramovich's boat. "There are so many beautiful places here, why do these people have to bring their houses with them?" he said.

Complete with a covered pool, massive communications tower and a crew of 40, Luna is just one vessel in what has been dubbed Abramovich's "navy" of mega-yachts. Now moored at the Riva dei Sette Martiri, close to the Biennale Gardens, local bloggers have joked it could be mistaken for one of the more abstract installations at the show.

Abramovich, 44, has not been glimpsed amid the uproar. But Zhukova, 29, a noted party-thrower, has made the Luna the place to be seen for the critics, buyers and artists currently thronging Venice.

Elton John and Courtney Love were among the VIP crowd ducking in and out of the 89 national pavilions last week, with the longest queues at the British section, which has been given a makeover by installation artist Mike Nelson.

The boat, though unloved by locals who find themselves living temporarily in its shadow, has proved a celebrity magnet this summer, hosting singers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale at Cannes after Madonna's visit last summer. Reports have also suggested that Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, could lend Luna to Lampard so he can propose to Christine Bleakley of ITV's Daybreak.

Severino Rigo, a retired IBM engineer who lives on the Riva dei Sette Martiri, said: "The real eyesores are the security barriers the crews erect where they dock, which extend out two to three metres across the pavement."

"I do not recall ever seeing such a large yacht as Abramovich's moored so close to the Biennale," said Enrico Tantucci, who is covering the event for local newspaper La Nuova Venezia. "It's like waking up in the morning to find someone has built an office block where the water used to be – no wonder locals have been complaining."

Zhukova's latest artistic project is also unlikely to endear her to Venetians. Many of the city's residents are embroiled in a battle to rid the city of the huge advertising hoardings that have been covering historic palazzi while they undergo restoration. The Coca-Cola billboard which engulfed the Bridge of Sighs and helped to spark the controversy is close to where the Luna is docked.

Zhukova has reportedly asked around 60 artists to create fake 15-second adverts which will be shown on a huge jumbotron TV screen, mounted on a barge sailing up and down the Grand Canal.

Zhukova has said she wants to open a debate about the anti-ad campaign, given that proceeds from the billboards are being used to pay for the vital restoration of Venice's palazzi.

The arrival of the mega-yachts has also exacerbated tensions over the rapidly growing number of cruise ships which steam past St Mark's and down the Giudecca canal before dropping off thousands of passengers who "just have time to eat a frozen lasagna and look for a place to pee", according to one of the signatories to the growing Facebook campaign to stop the 50ft-tall cruisers they claim shake the foundations of Venice's ancient buildings.

Rigo said that the hundreds of cruise ships now filing past his window were an even bigger problem than the mega-yachts. "After all, the private boats represent high-quality tourism," he said.

Not everyone is so negative. Abramovich's huge wealth has become a crucial asset to the Biennale which, held every two years, has become the world's most important contemporary art event. His funding has prompted new competitions and collections. Franca Coin, president of the Venice Foundation, said residents should be grateful to Abramovich and Zhukova for patronising the arts. "One more yacht in Venice is a lesser evil," she told Corriere della Sera.

Zhukova, the daughter of a Russian tycoon, has made a substantial impact in the art world, successfully opening Moscow's first modern art gallery in a former bus depot, while helping her boyfriend in plans for a $400m arts complex on an island he is leasing in St Petersburg.

But for Rigo and his neighbours, support for the arts only partly compensates for the blight of so many gleaming trophies of the super-rich 20 metres from his front door: "The vessels only stay a few days, but I'd rather see the beautiful view from my window, and the tourists don't know what they're missing."

• This article was amended on 5 June 2011 to correct the impression that Zhukova spoke to Italian media about the anti-ad campaign. She told the Wall Street Journal.


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November 08 2010

Chelsea in talks to leave Stamford Bridge and move to Earls Court

Exclusive: Chelsea FC considering move to site of Earls Court Exhibition Centre – but move could torpedo plans to build 8,000 home complex

Chelsea Football Club are in talks to quit their 105-year old home at Stamford Bridge and build a ground on the site of the soon- to-be-demolished Earls Court exhibition centre to hold at least 60,000 spectators, the Guardian has learned.

The Premier League champions, owned by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, are considering a move to the prime west London site just half a mile from their existing home amid growing concern they are losing ground to rivals with bigger and bigger stadiums.

Discussions have been kept secret because the move could torpedo a plan by the leading architect Sir Terry Farrell to transform Earls Court into a new residential enclave with more than 8,000 new homes. The scheme enters the latest phase of public consultation this week and is being undertaken with fellow landowners, Transport for London and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

"The discussion is now on again," said a source close to the deal. "It is largely because the owners are progressing alternative uses for the site and there's lots more urgency for Chelsea to make a decision. From Chelsea's point of view this is their last opportunity to get a new ground and stay in the same area they have been in for over a century."

Chelsea flirted with acquiring the same site four years ago but talks came to nothing. Now the site is larger and Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, has been warned the club faces a "deficit" as a result of Stamford Bridge's lack of capacity.

"There have been discussions about it and the club is clearly considering its next step," confirmed a source close to Chelsea, who added that negotiations are at an early stage and no deal has been signed.

The club has met the site's owner, Capital and Counties, in recent months and Chelsea and its advisers are holding "a series of key meetings to decide whether to pursue a bid or not", according to a source close to the talks.

A new stadium would not be ready until 2015 because Earls Court is scheduled to host the 2012 Olympic volleyball competition before the exhibition centre is demolished. After 73 years in which it has hosted gigs by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Oasis and Madonna, its economic viability has been compromised by the establishment of major new concert and conference venues elsewhere in London, including the 02 arena at the Millennium Dome.

Tonight Buck said it was "very difficult for us to make the philosophical decision that we are going to move on", but conceded that the lack of capacity at Stamford Bridge left it out of pocket compared with other clubs.

"Certainly we wouldn't leave west London or thereabouts and there are very few sites available," he said. "We have to do things with our other commercial activities to make up the deficit that is created by the fact we don't have a 60,000 seat stadium. We can't say that we will never move or have a new stadium but at the moment, it's not at the front of our agenda."

However, Chelsea insiders said Buck is keen to boost matchday takings because Uefa is introducing rules limiting the ability of super-rich owners to bankroll clubs without squaring spending with revenues. Despite winning the league last season, the club was only fifth in terms of average attendance in football's top flight behind Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. Stamford Bridge accommodates around 41,000 fans compared with 76,000 at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground and 60,000 at Arsenal's Emirates stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United recently made bids to occupy the 80,000 seat Olympic stadium.

The emergence of Chelsea's renewed interest in Earls Court is awkward for Capital and Counties, which has launched a public charm offensive for its housing project employing Edelman, the international public relations company. It is promoting the "four villages and a high street" vision for the area and declined to comment on negotiations with Chelsea.

"Our vision for Earls Court is for a world class residential-led development delivering thousands of new homes and jobs, and creating a remarkable new place in London," a spokesman said. "As part of that we maintain discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and neighbouring landowners including both local authorities, TfL, the GLA and the local community."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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