Bristol Arena could be scaled back, redesigned or scrapped altogether if the money needed to construct it continues to rise.
Marvin Rees admitted that the situation is now “urgent” but he remains committed to building the long-awaited venue.
With plans for the 12,000-capacity arena behind Temple Meads hanging in the balance once again, Bristol City Council’s cabinet has commissioned an independent review into the project’s value for money.
The appointment of contractor Buckingham Group to carry out pre-construction work was also approved at a meeting on Tuesday as the mayor and councillors reiterated their commitment to building the venue that lies at the heart of the Temple Quarter regeneration project.
Rees said: “There is a sense of urgency around this. We want the arena. We are the largest city left without an arena. This is not ideal but with the financial challenges we face, it does need to all add up.
“We have to invest but we also have a very important need to spend money on young people and all those social pressures we have. The commitment is absolutely there. We see the arena as the city’s future.”
Lib Dem group leader Gary Hopkins pointed out the council’s “weak bargaining position” after it parted company with the original contractor in January and a second firm took itself out of the running. He said this leaves Buckingham Group as the “only one in town” to deliver the project.
Hopkins added that downgrading the arena plans could result in a lower grade facility that ultimately costs the same amount of money.
More than £123m has been secured for the arena that it is promised to bring economic and social benefits to a long-neglected part of the city.
The council has already poured £9m into the project, but it has been plagued by delays, setbacks and escalating costs.
Tory Mark Weston voiced fears the council could be “turned into a laughing stock” as he reflected on Bristol’s poor track record when it comes to planning and investment in large infrastructure.
Despite his concern, he conceded the project should not be delivered “at any cost” and requested that taxpayers’ money is properly protected from anticipated further budget increases.
The cabinet did not approve recommendations to allocate an additional £500,000 to finance further work on plans to build a car park on Bath Road, which will now be looked into further within the independent review.
A question mark remains over how the planned 500 car parking spaces will be delivered after the council sold the site of the former sorting office on Cattle Market Road to the University of Bristol for a new campus.
Read more: Bristol Arena faces more uncertainty