HIBS chief executive Scott Lindsay today revealed that the announcement the Easter Road club are to go ahead with the construction of a new 6,400-seater East Stand was the result of two-and-a-half years of hard work.
Despite the tough economic climate, the Edinburgh outfit have given the green light to completing the redevelopment of their ground which began 15 years ago, the final piece of the jigsaw taking capacity to 20,250.
As a result Easter Road will, according to Hibs, be the largest, fully-covered, UEFA compliant football stadium in Scotland outside Glasgow once the work, which will begin with the demolition of the East Stand floodlights on Monday, is completed in late summer.
Hibs took everyone by surprise with the timing of their announcement as shareholders at the last two annual meetings were told by the directors they weren't willing to jeopardise the hard-earned stability of the club by sanctioning such a project given the volatility of both the financial and commodity markets.
The rocketing price of raw materials, with steel in particular having soared by 70 per cent at one point and the construction business buoyant had raised the cost of building a new stand to prohibitive levels.
Nonetheless, October's AGM was told by chairman Rod Petrie the club would "revisit" the issue in the knowledge construction costs had fallen in the economic downturn although, at that stage, Hibs still didn't have all the funding needed.
Today, however, it has become clear the recession has, in this instance, worked in Hibs' favour somewhat with club officials able to drive a hard bargain with a construction industry hungry for business.
While Lindsay was unwilling to state exactly how much the new stand will cost, he insisted the funds are in place to press ahead at this time.
He said: "We could have proceeded with the stand last year or the year before and been saddled with debt. In essence, nothing has substantially changed, we have continued to work at it and that's been the key.
"Working at it for two-and-a-half years, seeking the most cost effective design and staying close to the construction market, picking the right time to get back out there to procure the best deal.
"We'd always said we had ring-fenced a significant element of our cash resources for the stand. That money is still available today and now we have got the right package at the right time and the right price." Lindsay acknowledged that the disappearance of the East Stand – Saturday's SPL match with St Johnstone will be the last played before it – will prove to be an emotional occasion, particularly among the fans who have occupied seats in that area for years.
Seen as possibly the most raucous of the four stands on match-days, facilities on that side of the ground are antiquated and, Lindsay insisted, simply couldn't be allowed to remain.
However, he was equally adamant the new stand which will replace it will continue to provide "football in the raw" for it's inhabitants, the fact it will be a single tier structure part of the consultation process involving fans. Revealing his hope the new stand, which will rise to the height of the three others, will provide a "wall of sound" as the players emerge from the tunnel opposite, Lindsay said: "We know some fans love that area but we have a responsibility to create the best facilities we can and we can't take the club forward in the long term unless we create the right arena and environment for people to watch.
"Saturday, I am sure, will be an emotional day for those who enjoy watching the game from there but we spent a long time speaking to our supporters about what they did and did not want and I think we have incorporated many of the suggestions made to us.
"One guy told me he didn't want 'the prawn sandwich brigade' over there and there won't be hospitality suites and the like.
"I think it will still provide that 'raw' experience. But what supporters will get are tremendous facilities and great views of the pitch.
"It will be a fairly steep, single-tier stand but I like to think it's the fans themselves who create the atmosphere, not the building."
While admitting the entertainment value on the pitch has a huge bearing on crowd sizes at any football ground, Lindsay believes the new stand will help attract more fans to Easter Road where gates this season are already up.
He said: "We've had two matches this season where we have been practically at capacity with tickets for Hibs supporters sold out.
"Hopefully by improving facilities and the views available we are going to find more people encouraged to come along and watch games at Easter Road."
Hibs, it is understood, are also hopeful that the new-look Easter Road with it's capacity increased from the current 17,400, may also attract other fixtures such as Scotland Under-21 matches and possibly Cup semi-finals not involving the Old Firm such as Hearts' recent League Cup semi against St Mirren which was staged at Motherwell's Fir Park.
Lindsay said: "We'd like to think there will be a positive spiral, that the extra capacity will provide us with opportunities to grow revenues and support the business."
Although work on the project begins in earnest next week, with some 15,000 cubic metres of soil to be removed from the site before the construction process can begin, it is likely to run over into the start of next season.
However, Lindsay believes the lack of floodlighting won't cause problems with provision being made for temporary lights to be in place if required while visiting teams may be asked to agree to earlier kick offs if the need arises.
The fact Hibs have been able to press ahead with such an ambitious project at what is such a challenging time for football and the economy as a whole, is, Lindsay, insisted testament to the "rock solid" footing of a club which has returned a bottom line profit for five consecutive years.
And, he declared, it marked the final phase in a "remarkable transformation" which will see Hibs, already with a 5million state-of-the-art training centre full paid for, have one of the finest stadiums in Scotland.
Recalling how a whole raft of tough decisions had to be taken in 2002 when Sky TV pulled the plug on Scottish football, robbing Hibs of 20 per cent of their income at a stroke at a time when the club's wages-to-turnover ratio stood at 79 per cent, Lindsay said: "We've all been driven by our ambitions for the club, all founded on the experiences we have had.
"We are not going to jeopardise the club. We have found ourselves in a position to take advantage of the opportunity which has presented itself.
"Even in down-turns there are opportunities and we have been able to take this one because of the sound decisions we have taken over the last few years."
Bigger and better things are on the way
THE final phase of the redevelopment of Easter Road will result not only in a new pitch – but a much bigger one, it was revealed today, writes DAVID HARDIE.
Hibs will take the opportunity created by building a new East Stand to bring the pitch up to UEFA and international standards.
As a result, it will be widened by four metres which means John Hughes' players will enjoy an added 120 square metres of turf. Chief executive Scott Lindsay said: "The present East Stand provides a physical barrier but once it is removed we are required to make the pitch UEFA compliant.
"The current pitch is a fairly old one and has been subject to extreme weather as have others.
"But significant work will take place, to the under-structure and the undersoil heating.
"Building the new East Stand will provide us with the opportunity to strip the pitch back and create a better surface."