John Nelms has come under heavy fire from Dundee fans of late.
Supporters unhappy with the club’s position in the Premiership, managerial upheaval and a perceived lack of communication from the top of the club expressed their displeasure in an open letter, which also called for reform of how the Dark Blues are run.
The club’s ownership – Nelms and US-based money man Tim Keyes – responded by releasing an update on their plans to build a new stadium at Camperdown.
It drew a range of responses, from excitement to outright scepticism.
We are excited to issue a club update and reveal new animations that show the stadium development at Camperdown #thedee
— Dundee Football Club (@DundeeFC) March 24, 2022
In the aftermath, with supporter discussion raging, Nelms agreed to a sit down interview with Courier Sport.
We have already published extracts of our discussion, but have decided to share the entire section on the topic of the new stadium – and the situation with long-standing home Dens Park – in-full, exactly as John Nelms gave it to us.
Question: What is the timescale for the new stadium?
John Nelms: “There is a timescale but unfortunately the timescale is not just mine. It is the city’s timescale and all the other studies.
“Ideally, we would like to be in the stadium in the 2024 season – that’s our goal.
“That’s what I am pushing everybody to get to.
“I am a bit hesitant to tell everybody that is the date it is going to happen but that’s the date we are pushing for.”
Q: Previously the finance wasn’t in place, is it now?
A: “We are much further forward with that and that’s why we kicked the project off.
“We are now comfortable with the options that we have in finance.
“We have spent a lot of time in London and some of the funding options that were not afforded to us early doors are afforded to us now.
“We have eight meetings coming up with funders for different aspects of the stadium project.
“So once we got comfortable with that, we got all the consultants back together and on March 16 we had a kick-off meeting.
“All the consultants started to put together what they needed to do to get our full application in.
“We did this in 2017/18, revisited just before Covid in 2020.
“Our head planner is starting to work with the city to ensure all of our scoping is either the exact same or similar, or if there are any changes to our scoping that we need to do.
“So they have all kicked off.”
Q: You haven’t applied for planning permission yet, what is happening with that?
A: “It is not straightforward.
“We are going for ‘planning in principle’ because we have several elements to the site that are so different from each other.
“If it was just, say, a housing site or just a commercial site… but this is multi-faceted so we have to make sure we can do everything.
“It has to integrate in order to get the stadium built itself.
“Everything kind of feeds into the stadium construction itself.
“So we have to make sure all the elements work together. But the elements are so different.
“So for example, from the stadium to housing, to crematorium they have different things in planning aspects that are different from each other and have different requirements.
“Therefore we get an overall, broad view but then we go in for full planning on those elements.
“For planning in principle, it will probably take between six months and a year.”
Q: Are you confident that any problems due to access and exit routes to and from the Kingsway can be addressed?
A: “Systra (transport consultancy group) addressed that with Transport Scotland early doors.
“That was one of the first things we did. We did loads of studies on transport and what we can and cannot do.
“We had to move a few things around and a few studies to say where the access points can be.
“And then they said it is now time where we feel comfortable enough to where you can go and put an application in.
“So we have done that. That was the very first thing we did. A lot of the other elements can be overcome but traffic has to be one of those things we really have to pay attention to.
“Events are just one part of the thing. You are talking about 25 to 30 days of football, concerts, things like that but the rest of the days it is still being utilised but it is a more normal pattern of traffic.”
Q: Who pays for roads and the studies?
A: “We pay for all the studies and we pay for everything that we are working on with Government to say are there abilities for them to help?
“Are there grants or is it within a plan that they already have to upgrade certain things?
“Those are all conversations that we are starting to have again. There are several elements like that.
“We wouldn’t have gone forward if we didn’t think it would work.
“This is something that is really big for Dundee. We have met with several people at the city level of Dundee for different elements that Dundee is missing at the moment.
“Having a concert for 25,000 patrons, Dundee gets passed over.
“These acts would love to come to Dundee but we just get passed over constantly.
“If we can bring two or four concerts a year then great. It doesn’t conflict with the type of act that would be at Slessor Gardens, or even the other two proposals that might be coming to fruition – one has 4,000 and one has 10,000 which I think would be amazing.
“But ours is an outdoor venue for 25,000.
“What could that turn into? It could be an anchor space for festivals, things like that.
“There are many things that could grow from what we are trying to do.”
Q: This has been ongoing since 2017 without anything being built, can you understand the scepticism some might have?
A: “100 per cent I understand the scepticism.
“We use the word ‘frustration’ as we have been going at this since 2017/18.
“When we first came to the football club, we had a three, five and seven-year plan.
“In our seven-year plan we were starting to look for land for a new stadium.
“But we found the land prior to that so in 10 years, we thought we would have a stadium built.
“Now, that sounds like we are almost back on schedule but the reality is that the schedule moved forward because we own that land.
“We own that land outright but that cash is not working like it normally would. We would have it in some sort of bond or investment.
“This is an investment but it has just been sitting there so we need to get this thing moving.
“As I said, I can 100% understand the scepticism – it is painful but these things take a long time.
“So we have to get this thing rolling and that’s what we have done.”
Q: Buying Dens Park from John Bennett – are you any further forward with that?
A: “We have an agreement with John Bennett to purchase this stadium but I can’t really talk about that.”
Q: The ground-share issue, is there a possibility you might have to look at a ground-share?
A: “That all has to do with timing of funding.
“We would not even consider it until the stadium was started.
“The stadium would be in process before we would even consider . . . we might have to negotiate terms and things like that before the stadium started obviously.
“But it is a timing thing. We will never be without a home.
“We might need to share very temporarily while the new stadium is being built.
“Some people think that we would leave this ground before we had that ready to go. But that doesn’t make any sense to us.
“We will have a home to go to.”
Q: Is Tannadice an option for that?
A: “I don’t know what any options are. All of our options will be open until . . . we are not there yet.
“I have had conversations with groups just at an 80,000-foot level and we have had some ideas and thoughts.
“But that’s only if things happen – there are potentially some bridging loans that could happen but maybe not if we don’t have to do it. What’s the cost of that, what’s the cost of groundsharing?
“We have to take all these things into account before we go ‘that’s what we are going to do’.
“So we may not need to groundshare but we might have to. Either way, that is already in motion.”
Q: If the new stadium process is delayed again, what is the plan for Dens Park, will it be improved?
A: “We have improved things here but that’s the point – you can’t really tell that we have improved things here.
“That’s the hardest part about improving Dens Park.
“We put ladies toilets in, rewired and painted.
“All the rooms have been redecorated, new fire systems, new laundry rooms, new training rooms and new gym but it doesn’t feel like it.
“We have done all these things but it is hard to put on an entertainment event in a venue where this part was built in the 19th century.
“We are having to do studies to see whether we can get people in and out of this place in time.
“We don’t know yet but we might have to reduce capacity in this stand because of the ingress, egress.”
Q: Could Dens Park be redeveloped?
A:“That would probably cost us as much as building a new stadium.
“And we still wouldn’t be able to do concerts or use the stadium 365 days a year.
“We don’t have parking, there are all of those elements.
“Yes, this bit might change and it might be a bit better but everything else is the same.
“We can only get so many buses in, we have so many limitations – the neighbourhood is a limitation.
“So as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to be here.”