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Construction on the Artemio Franchi to begin in 2023 amidst more questions

Florence mayor Dario Nardella is setting dates, but even he sounds a bit uncertain about whether the project can be completed in time and on budget.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Florence mayor Dario Nardella spoke today about the refurbishment beginning on the Stadio Artemio Franchi. He proclaimed that construction will begin next year and finish by 2026, despite some reservations he has about the project. And if the alarm bells just started going off in your head, your warning systems are operating just fine.

Part of my skepticism is based on Nardella’s comments from just three weeks ago in which he warned that the project risked falling through due to the increased prices for imports from the EU. Even with the €165 million in federal and state funds allocated to the Franchi update, he warned that only €50 million was available for raw materials and that this sum wouldn’t cover the cost, especially as prices rise in the future.

And you know what? He’s right. The cost of this project is going to swell, and as costs swell, delays occur. And delays, in this case, could scupper the entire endeavor. While that previously mentioned €165 million covers the rebuild of the arena and the construction of a new tram line to the Campo di Marte, it’s also contingent on construction beginning by 31 December 2023 and finishing by 31 December 2026.

There’s already a hiccup there too: work on the tram stop is expected to stretch beyond the 2026 deadline, which could force the city to repay the central government tens or hundreds of millions of euros. There’s also no plan to fund any part of the project except for the stadium itself and the tram. That means that the other two parts of the project (an update to the entire Campo di Marte sporting district and a 3,000 space car park between the stadium and the train tracks) still lack funding, which feels like an enormous pit of quicksand that could swallow up the entire venture.

This feels like a great time to remind everyone that Rocco Commisso offered to pay €300 million for the entire project but was thwarted at every turn by local and national bureaucracy that refused to work with him after his stated intent to purchase and redevelop the land around the stadium in much the way the current project is unfolding.

While the local government’s desire not to lose the revenue the Franchi generates—mostly Fiorentina matches and concerts—there was surely room to compromise in order to get the work done. Even if selling the land outright was unpalatable, a 99-year lease with a revenue sharing agreement for non-Viola events was surely a reasonable option. Commisso’s camp and the officials in Florence are all intelligent people and surely could have reached an agreement of some kind that both sides could’ve stomached.

Instead, Fiorentina supporters and Florentines are held hostage to a project with a future that’s uncertain before it’s even begun. I genuinely hope that Nardella and company get this off the ground, track down the funds they’re missing, and cut the ribbon on the new facilities before 2026. I would love nothing more. But I’ve also watched a decade of stadium plans go up in smoke, and I’m worried that this one is already dousing itself in gasoline.