Bernstein bullish over casino site investment

The search for a development partner for the 38-acre former regional casino site in east Manchester remains on track despite the doom-laden market, according to Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council.

The site was put out to tender in September by New East Manchester, the urban regeneration company. Bidders have until "early 2009" to submit proposals for a £300m major leisure development on the land next to the City of Manchester Stadium, home to Manchester City FC.

Bernstein told Place: "Our advisers have done work that confirms there is more than a reasonable prospect of high quality bids being brought forward. If anything that view is being confirmed to me by the number of people who have phoned up and contacted us saying they want to be part of this, not just because it's a great economic opportunity but they all want to be part of the transformation of Manchester."

The development partner will be expected to finance the project as well as carry out the works.

Bernstein confirmed he had met with the Abu Dhabi Group, wealthy new owners of Manchester City, but declined to say how or if he expected them to invest in the area.

He added: "We're in a planning phase here. Yes it's a difficult market at the moment, but by the time it comes back we've got to ensure that really strong place-making authorities have the products that are going to come through that planning system, so that when the market does start to improve people will pick this up. Whilst bank funding generally is not as easy as it was there is still no shortage of leisure products being brought forward in the marketplace at the present time because people still spend their money."

Former Isis boss Mark Ryder was recently hired as a freelance director of the project. Ideas discussed in the industry and media for the visitor attraction have ranged from BMX centre to an extreme sports attraction.

Bernstein would not be drawn on the uses. He added: "It's a remarkable opportunity and our strategy has remained consistent over the last several years. Sportcity has the potential to become one of the country's greatest and most important destination centres.

"The locational advantage of the site gives us access through the transport system to local skills and one of the biggest catchment areas of the UK. Our ability to deliver a major visitor attraction is quite unique in these uncertain times."

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