HARARE City Council might have lost a huge opportunity to own a modern football stadium after the municipality turned down a private investor's offer to renovate, and maintain Rufaro, in exchange for naming rights.
The Mbare facility has been crying out for a major facelift, which the council has over the years, failed to deliver.
And, in April 2019, an investor approached the local authority, through their then Housing Director Addmore Nhekairo, and proposed a marriage which would give Rufaro a new look.
"The investors wanted to give the venue an all-round make-over," sources told The Herald.
"They proposed that they would install bucket seats, around the stadium, an enclosed VIP lounge, three bars, modern ablution facilities and secure parkade facilities.
"The investors would then maintain the modern facility they would have established. They wanted to give the stadium a modern look."
In return, the private investors wanted their name to be incorporated into the stadium's name, even if the name Rufaro, was going to be retained.
However, the council rejected the proposal, with the renaming of the venue, turning into the controversial issue, which led to the collapse of the deal.
Harare City Council Acting Mayor, Stewart Mutizwa, confirmed that an investor wanted to come on board but there were certain issues, chief among them being the naming rights, which divided the two parties.
"Yes, there was an investor who came and proposed that they wanted to help in renovating Rufaro Stadium, sometime in April 2019," Mutizwa said.
"The issue that led to the stalling, in the talks, was to do with the naming rights.
"The conditions were a thorn in the flesh and we couldn't go with it. There are legal connotations involved there.
"Besides, the name is sacred and it means a lot, in terms of the stadium's identity, and that is one area I am sure led to the collapse of the deal, but we can still work out something.
"We are aware of the effects that go with the renaming of the stadiums, to the people in those suburbs, and it involves a lot.
"What we can do is to give the partner(s) some exclusive rights to advertising, for now." Rufaro was named after Rufaro Marketing, a council subsidiary which consisted of chain beer gardens, whose proceeds were used in the construction of this venue.
But, the once iconic stadium, has lost its glitz and turned into an eyesore.
Street vendors have literally turned its adjacent areas into market stalls and some people have turned into their open air toilet.
The outside car park has been converted into a thriving market.
The stadium was red-flagged by the ZIFA First Instance Board, early last year, and it remains unfit to host top-flight league matches.
With competitive football expected to make a return, next month, after more than 14 months of inactivity, refurbishments at the stadium are yet to start.
But, Mutizwa reassured the nation renovations at Rufaro and Gwanzura, in Highfield, will start next week.
He said council had since set aside $2 million and $1.5 million for the facelift at Rufaro and Gwanzura.
"We haven't yet commenced the renovation work, at these two facilities, as we were still putting resources together.
"Renovations at Rufaro will commence next week, with a mass clean-up of its surroundings, with football stakeholders part of the process.
"We have delayed the renovations, yes, but I am sure that the facilities will be ready by the time football starts next month.
"Once we commence work at the facilities, we will not be stopping until we finish and the pace will be incredible, everything is well as I speak." In the past, some committees had been set to oversee the renovation of the two grounds and some work was being done, by the time the country went into lockdown, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in March last year.
Gwanzura was last used in 2015 and has fast been turning into a ghost facility, with the perimeter wall collapsing.
"We are aware of all that and we are running around so that when we deploy, work goes uninterrupted," said Mutizwa.
"Both stadiums will have bucket seats, modern change-rooms as well as immaculate playing surfaces."
l Legendary midfielder, Bernard "Machipisa" Dzingai, who starred at Rufaro, Gwanzura and some of the country's biggest stadia, died in Harare yesterday, two weeks after suffering a stroke.