THE sun is shining and York Minster is glistening in the distance.
Jason McGill, however, only has eyes for what is laid out directly in front of him. The Yorkshire Post has joined the 52-year-old on the roof of the block that will house a state-of-the-art leisure centre and there is no mistaking the look of pride on the York City chairman’s face.
The framework for three of the four stands that will make up the new York Community Stadium is already in place below us, while the concrete steps of the main stand are being lifted into place by a crane that towers over the Monks Cross site. The base of the South Stand, which backs on to the cinema, has also been laid.
It does not need too much of a leap of imagination to visualise what McGill and the club will be enjoying once the keys are handed over on May 14 next year.
“This is my fourth visit,” said the Minstermen chief with a smile. “Every time I come something new has happened and, for me, it is really exciting times.
“The city of York is going to benefit immensely from this project. Not just the stadium, but the entire facility, from the leisure facilities to the largest cinema complex in Europe, swimming pool and a community centre with NHS Outpatients.
For the city, the boost is immense. Watching the team run out here for the first time will be a proud moment for all of us who have been involved in this saga of a project. And it has been a saga.York City chairman Jason McGill
“For the city, the boost is immense. Watching the team run out here for the first time will be a proud moment for all of us who have been involved in this saga of a project. And it has been a saga.”
Indeed it has. Work began last December, but only after umpteen delays that left many wondering if the much-vaunted stadium was destined to remain on the drawing board in perpetuity.
McGill has four-and-a-half million reasons to bemoan the various hold-ups that include planning wrangles, a change of contractor and a judicial review, this being how many pounds he has loaned the club interest-free to bridge the gap from the original planned move in 2011 to next summer. The sale of Bootham Crescent, together with the claims of creditors, is unlikely to cover such an outlay, leaving McGill out of pocket.
Nevertheless, the Malton-based businessman is eagerly looking forward to what he believes will be the dawning of a new era for York.
“The plan is getting to a position where the football club can wipe its face without needing extensive external investment,” he said about a club that lost £1.16m over the three years to June 2017, the last set of accounts available.
“Personally, I feel it will be very tricky not to need some funding on an annual basis, at least early on after the move. But, certainly, the revenue this facility generates will reduce the money that will be needed. Be it JM Packaging (McGill’s company) or whoever. This will put the club on a stronger financial footing.”
As McGill speaks, work continues across a project that, once completed, will have cost £64m. The stadium and leisure centre account for £39m of this outlay and things are progressing at a fast pace under main contractor, the Buckingham Group.
The pitch is expected to be laid early next year, soon after the seats have been installed in the four by then completed stands. A Fans’ Zone is also planned, complete with a roof after JM Packaging stumped up an extra £50,000 to cover the cost.
“We hope fans will come down early, have a few beers and watch the Sky or BT game on a bank of TVs,” said McGill. “We want to get the atmosphere going with local bands, but the original plan had no provision for a roof. That was no good as if it rains then the fans would have got wet. So, my company, and not the football club, has paid the money.”
It is hoped the traditional uplift in attendances at a new stadium – often around 30 per cent – will be repeated, not least because both York City and York City Knights rugby league club will benefit from all income generated when either is playing at home.
Then there will be two non-matchdays a month, typically a Friday and Saturday night, when the Minstermen can stage events such as dinners or boxing bouts in the hospitality areas that will see all proceeds go to the club.
“The business plan is to increase the income of the football club,” added McGill. “Bootham Crescent has next to no facilities. For a start, the hospitality boxes face on to the car park.
“Here on the top floor there are three dining experiences. Left-hand side from the pitch is a room for 200 people, a pie and pea facility. The middle is more a carvery for 100. Then the directors dining room has scope for another 100. Something for everyone.
“We can also open up the whole area to make one large venue, catering for 400 at a time. At Bootham Crescent, we can probably do 50 maximum.”
York have endured some tough times in recent years with back-to-back relegations in 2016 and 2017 having dumped the club in the sixth tier.
McGill, as chairman, has come in for plenty of flak from the terraces. He put the club up for sale in April after the Supporters Trust voted against handing their 25 per cent share to JM Packaging only for no serious bidders to come forward.
Asked what the future entails for someone who had initially planned to sell up in the wake of the scheduled move to a new stadium in 2011, McGill replied: “Moving here will be a watershed moment for me.
“I would certainly want to have a season here, where I can enjoy the fruits of those labours. I am 52 and this saga has been a big part of my life, what with all the trials and tribulations that happened along the way.
“There was the lobbying of various parties, then the meetings with everyone from the Council to the Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF) and all the bodies that have been involved. It has been a lot of hard work, especially when I have been running my own business at the same time.
“I was spreading myself too thinly, and so there will be a year here. Then, after that, let’s see what happens. We all want to see York City benefit from increased crowds and the income this facility can generate. If we can dovetail that with success on the pitch, fantastic.”