BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hearts are set to expand the capacity of Tynecastle to more than 20,000 by 2017 after owner Ann Budge announced the construction of a new main stand.
The Gorgie club will demolish the existing 101-year-old structure, which Budge has previously described as “not fit for purpose”, in favour of a modern replacement which will boast hospitality boxes, function rooms and see a minimum of 2,500 extra seats put in place.
Hearts are currently in the process of buying land around Tynecastle to facilitate the work, with a sizeable purchase set to be completed today.
They have also selected a blueprint which should allow the build to be undertaken over the course of one close-season in 2017, meaning the Jambos will not need to ply their trade at Murrayfield for a campaign, as had been previously mooted.
Indeed, Budge expects the process of clearing the land in preparation for the new main stand to be “well under way” by this time next year.
The news delighted Hearts supporters and the club’s Annual General Meeting yesterday, drawing a veil over a stadium saga which dates back well over a decade and partly defined the stewardships of Chris Robinson and Vladimir Romanov.
“Hopefully by the end of January I hope we will have concluded all the legals in terms of getting the land which is needed,” explained Budge on another significant day in Hearts’ recent history.
“We know the idea we prefer and we have had fairly detailed conversations. We have outlined designs, we know what it will look like and we have construction plans. We have timetables and are quite far on.
“I am hoping that the work will start next year. The plan we are going with does see us being able to do it over a close season. If we start the project next year, as a I hope, then it would be for the season after.
“I hope that by this time next year a lot of the work will have started. We’ll do everything we can possibly do until next season closes and then we’ll go hell-for-leather to try and get things done.
“It’s a minimum of 20,000 – it will be over that. Lower than that, and the supporters would say we weren’t being ambitious – and I don’t think it will be a problem filling it.”
While Budge was unable to place a concrete figure on the work, she was adamant the club would not be saddled with debt in order to finance the facelift.
That will see supporters, who played such a crucial part in rescuing the club from administration, playing a massive role in funding the development.
The deep well of existing financial support within the Foundation of Hearts (FoH) – the fans’ group which boasts more than 8,000 paying pledgers – is set to be utilised, with discussions between the club and FoH continuing.
“There are a number of options I am looking at. At the forefront of my mind is I don’t want to land the club with debt,” Budge continued. “It’s not going to be ‘let’s go and borrow X million’, even if we could get it in this day and age.
“The other thing I think we will absolutely do – because I think it is the right thing to do – is ask the supporters again to continue to support the club.
“They are putting a lot of money into the club in lots of different areas, and I think if the supporters see there is a real plan in place in a realistic and touchable timescale, they will get behind it.
“We’re doing well, we’re building a reserve so we won’t be starting with nothing. I’d like to think we can do it with the club and the supporters together.
“It’s one of the things I have already talked to the Foundation of Hearts about, what do we use the FoH money for? And I think if the pledgers felt it was going to help them realise everybody’s dream, I think it would they would be on board.”
Budge was speaking after addressing Hearts’ 109th AGM, in which she signed off accounts showing an £681,000 operating loss for the financial year ending June 2015, but a reduction in debt of more than £1.5 million.
However, those figures were suitably overshadowed by the announcement regarding Tynecastle – an announcement which, she concedes, represented something of a person U-turn.
“Before I got involved in the club, just looking at it coldly, I would have said ‘who on Earth wants the hassle of building a new stand?’ she smiled.
“It is in the middle of such a tightly locked portion of land, with few options to work with. I said ‘surely it would make much more sense to go to a new clean site?’
“One of the things I used to say when I was over in in the Wheatfield Stand was ‘I hope they never build a great big stand over there, it’s a lovely view of the castle!’
“I was always under the impression it would be better to start again, rather than dealing with all the problems.
“But I have a much better handle of the problems now. The other three stands, albeit pretty basic, have nothing wrong with them and there are plenty of opportunities to really improve the stadium as a whole.”