Dragons chairman David Buttress has revealed plans to make Rodney Parade a stadium “fit for the 21st century”, starting with installing a new hybrid pitch this summer.
Buttress says the ground is the busiest in the UK - providing a home for the Dragons, Newport County and Newport RFC in normal times.
While there have been no Black & Ambers games this season, amid the suspension of the Welsh Premiership, Rodney Parade has hosted Cardiff Blues while the Arms Park has been out of action.
It all takes its toll and Buttress says a new playing surface is essential to help cope with the demands.
He also feels the current structure of three teams using the ground isn’t sustainable in the long-run and that some tough choices will have to be made.
Speaking on the 1912 Exiles podcast, he said: “The pitch needs replacing.
“It really should have been replaced last year.
“The reason that didn’t happen last summer is because of the economic impact of Covid. Frankly we just couldn’t afford to do it.
“We are lucky the WRU put in a great surface three years ago, before I was involved.
“It drains well and the structure of the pitch is very good.
“But the truth is it gets played on too much. It’s a very busy surface.
“We have managed to eke another year out of it thanks to the ground-staff doing an incredible refurbishment job.
“But we are going to have to replace that pitch and put in a really top surface because it is very difficult when you have got three teams operating on it, two of whom are rugby, particularly during December, January and February. When you have two or three games a week in that period, it’s just too much wear.
“So we’ve got to put in the latest technology this summer.
“It will still be a grass pitch, but the kind of hybrid surface you see in the Premier League.”
He continued: “We are also going to have to make an investment this summer improving the changing rooms.
“For the professionalism and credibility of the stadium long term, I think it’s the right thing to do.
“The LED advertising around the stadium needs to be improved, which will hopefully bring in more commercial revenue.
“Long-term, I would like to be part of making Rodney Parade a stadium fit for the 21st century in terms of sporting experience.
“That’s not just the surface, that’s the facilities, but also the product we put around the stadium in terms of the match-day experience.”
Buttress then turned to the question of the usage of the ground, which has been the source of major controversy.
“Three teams at Rodney Parade is not possible to manage in the long-term,” he said.
“It’s the busiest professional sports ground in Britain by some margin in terms of the number of games it hosts.
“We have to recognise that and come up with a plan.
“That’s a difficult one as there’s a lot of angst around the history of Newport RFC and Rodney Parade and I’m respectful of that.
“But it’s very clear to me the current structure doesn’t work and it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.
“We will try and find a solution that works for all.
“But there will be probably be some tough choices in there. We can’t get away from that.
“Newport RFC and Rodney Parade have been together since 1875. I am enormously respectful of that history.
“But the truth is Welsh rugby restructured itself 20 years ago and went to regional teams.
“Forget whether you like it or you don’t. It is what it is. I am dealing with the reality and not some nostalgic view of the world.
“As a result of that, we have three teams at Rodney Parade, two of which are professional and one semi-professional.
“I have to say I don’t think that works for Newport RFC and I don’t think it works for us as a venue and we are going to have to come to a solution on that.
“Newport RFC’s home is Rodney Parade, it always should be and I will do everything I can to make that work.
“But that is going to require a bit of give and take on both sides.
“Yes, I am respectful of the hundred year history at Rodney Parade, yes I understand that.
“But I can’t let that dictate the next hundred years. The world has changed and for Rodney Parade to be a highly successful, thriving venue for the next hundred years, I think the model is one where it improves under the banner of professional sport.”
Buttress also explained how Rodney Parade came to become the temporary home of Cardiff Blues, while the Arms Park was unavailable due to its usage as part of the Dragon's Heart field hospital.
“It wasn’t a WRU decision, it was a Dragons and my decision, so I am responsible for that,” he said.
“That was driven by two things - one was financial, we obviously got paid rent for when the Blues used the ground.
“Secondly, we felt it was manageable because normally we would have 12-15 Newport RFC fixtures this season.
“The fact we haven’t got any Premiership rugby meant we felt hosting three or four Blues games was manageable.
“It was also arguably the right thing to do as the Arms Park was being used by the Covid hospital.”
Former Just Eat chief executive Buttress was appointed chairman of the WRU-owned Dragons in September 2017 and admits it was something of a culture shock initially in terms of the relationship between the three teams who play out of Rodney Parade.
“When I first got involved, I thought ‘Oh we will all work together, it will all be good, we all enjoy our sport’,” he said.
“I realised quite quickly I was probably a little bit naive, if I am honest.
“I didn’t realise just how much division existed between Newport RFC, the Dragons, rugby and football, and then the conflict given the usage of the pitch.
“I thought we would all be sat round the camp fire singing Kumbaya.
“That was probably a little bit unrealistic, given the history and complexity of what needed to get sorted out.”
Rating the job he has done during his time at the helm, he said: “I have made ok progress. I wouldn’t give myself more than a C+.
“I think part of getting it to a B would be to take the club private, get a long-term lease on Rodney Parade and improve the ground.
“I am also very keen to get closer with Newport County and do a deal where they become a long-term partner in the stadium.
“We are 100 per cent committed to developing a long-term strategic partnership with Newport County at Rodney Parade. We want that to be a hugely successful collaboration.
“Then it’s a question of sitting down with Newport RFC and working out how we make Rodney Parade part of their long-term future, but equally they help us to manage the surface.”
As he surveys the current situation, Buttress believes Newport as a city is under-achieving in sporting terms.
“Swansea has has a football team in the Premiership recently, they’ve had the Ospreys winning the league,” he said.
“Really? Should Swansea be having that much more success than Newport?
“We have got to look at why Newport is under-punching its weight.”