It had seemed like Fiorentina were making progress with the Viola Park, the new sporting center that owner Rocco Commisso has so publicly desired since buying the club, regretfully abandoning the Stadio Artemio Franchi in favor of a brand new project. He’d optioned property in nearby Bagno a Ripoli and seemed to have built a good understanding with mayor Francesco Casini. He’d gotten all the pertinent paperwork into and out of the labyrinthine Italian bureaucracy. He’d met with architects and builders to develop plans. He’d even attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
Everything was humming along nicely until last week, when an open letter from heritage and environmental organization Italia Nostra reached Italian president Sergio Mattarella asking him to immediately put a halt to the construction on the grounds that the Viola Park was in a protected agricultural area which forbade new construction, especially of such magnitude. The club, not surprisingly, expressed shock and disappointment.
Despite the Viola Park process having passed through all appropriate legal channels already, Mattarella has referred the case to the Tuscan Tribunale Administrivo Regionale (TAR), who are expected to rule on the matter in the coming weeks. Until then, there is a temporary suspension of work in Bagno a Ripoli. If the TAR rules against Italia Nostra, the non-profit could appeal to a higher court. The delay could last for months.
Italia Nostra, led by retired University of Florence professor Leonardo Rombai, has received a broadside of protests on social media from Fiorentina supporters, accusing the organization of filing a gadfly suit. The Associazone Tifosi Fiorentini (ATF), with support from Fiorentina, has announced plans to counter-sue on the grounds that Italia Nostra’s call to halt work on the Viola Park is “spurious, out of place, inappropriate, and lacking common sense.” This simultaneous lawsuit could see Italia Nostra’s case dismissed more quickly and squash any appeal to a higher court as well, although it does add yet another layer to an already complex situation.
Bagno a Ripoli mayor Casini sounds livid as well, stating that his administration obtained all necessary permits and have broken no regulations in beginning the construction and questioning why Nostra Italia has waited until months after the period for public comments closed to raise its objections. He also expressed regret that the project has ground to a halt again, citing the loss of jobs for local builders.
Florence mayor Dario Nardella has pledged “full collaboration” with Bagno a Ripoli, noting that there was no cause to halt “an urban planning procedure that has already concluded its course.” It’s worth remembering, though, that Andrea Pessina, his Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for Florence, embarked in an obstructionist campaign to prevent the refurbishment of the Stadio Franchi that eventually pushed Commisso and company out of Florence entirely.
Rombai has fired back, claiming that the approval process for the new construction was rushed along to please Commisso, despite Fiorentina and Casini stating that it took twice as long as the standard 60 days. Rombai clarified that he isn’t opposed to the project itself so much as its location in a protected agricultural space and suggested that, if the club found another nearby area that didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of a 2015 zoning regulation, he and Nostra Italia would withdraw their objections.
There’s been a clear drawing of lines in recent days, with the Serie A, the FIGC, and Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) cosigning a letter to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to provide a counterweight to Italia Nostra’s missive to Mattarella. The three most important sporting administrators in the country highlight the importance of allowing projects like the Viola Park to proceed; without them, they claim, Italy’s sporting infrastructure will fall even farther into disrepair, leaving clubs without financial resources and jeopardizing all sectors—men, women, and youth—of the sport. Without government cooperation, they warn, delaying tactics like this will destroy the industry.
It’s the most surreal in a seemingly endless list of delays for Fiorentina’s new stadium. It seems remarkable that Italia Nostra waited until after construction had begun on the Viola Park to protest, especially after all local and regional government offices had signed off on the project. If nothing else, you can only imagine the fury with which Rocco met this latest setback. If nothing else, he has to feel that the entire country is set against him, a feeling that Fiorentina fans can surely share in.