Hearts have revealed that plans are well underway to redevelop Tynecastle and turn it into a 20,000-plus capacity stadium in time for the 2017-18 season.
Speaking to shareholders at yesterday’s annual general meeting, the club owner and chair Ann Budge announced that the club would be building a new main stand and staying at its spiritual home, with the buy-up of adjoining land already in hand. Outline plans have been drawn up and a timetable set out, with Budge hopeful that work will start next year and conclude in the 2017 close season.
Our objective is to put the Tynecastle area well and truly back on the mapAnn Budge
But the owner, who bought Hearts last year and steered it out of administration and back into the Premiership, insisted that the club would not be bogged down in debt as a consequence.
“It’s not going to be ‘let’s go and borrow several million’,” she said. “Even if we could get it in this day and age. That’s a no-no. That’s not the right way forward. So I know what I won’t do.
“The other thing I think we will absolutely do because I think it is the right thing to do and I think it will help, 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, as you know. So I think if the supporters see there is a real plan in place in a realistic and almost touchable timescale, I’m sure they will get behind it. We’re doing well, we’re building a reserve so we won’t be starting with nothing. So I’d like to think we can do it with the club and the supporters together.”
There is a five-year plan to turn control of the club over to the fans through the Foundation of Hearts but it is understood that Budge would be willing to stay on longer and perhaps redefine that timeline for repayment of her loan if it would help fund the redevelopment plans.
“One of the things I have already talked to the Foundation about is what do we use the FoH money for? And clearly I think if the supporters and the pledgers felt it was going to help with everybody’s dream, I think they would be on board.”
The plans to stay in Gorgie were met with approval by shareholders, and the wider fanbase is likely to reflect that positivity. Proposals to move away from the current site blighted former owners while the tight footprint was a source of frustration for Budge’s predecessor Vladimir Romanov.
Speaking after the agm Budge admitted that in purely business terms she had also considered moving away from Tynecastle but had been swayed by popular opinion. Research also convinced her that there is scope to provide the kind of stadium needed to bolster income.
“The other three stands, albeit pretty basic, have nothing wrong with them,” Budge said. “There are things we can do in the undercroft there and plenty of opportunities to really improve the stadium as a whole.”
Although the buy up of surrounding land is vital to the plans, she said the tight footprint ensures that the essence of the current arena will be protected.
“Everyone tells us it’s one of the best places – if not the best place – to come for atmosphere. So the plan that we have is that we won’t destroy that at all,” Budge added. “It [the new main stand] will still be right on top of the pitch. It will probably be like the others. What we want to do is make it uniform [in terms of height].”
She will not unveil more detailed plans or drawings until the necessary land is acquired but is confident that phase of the development can be completed early in the new year.
“We have purchased some of [the land],” she revealed, with paperwork expected to be completed today. “But we need more and we are in very, very advanced discussions to finalise that.
“I’d like to think that by the end of January we’d be able to say ‘this is what’s definite and this is what we’ve still to do’. We’re now refining the costs for the design that we’ve all seen and liked. We’re just going into them in a bit more detail.
“There will be hospitality, function rooms and other things. I think it will be something special. The club has to be sustainable and that is built on things other than the football, it is built on the business and infrastructure. We need to put things in place which will allow the club to develop.
“It is an emotive subject and I feel we need to walk before we can run. Someone suggested that we just knock down all the stands and build a 35,000 stadium! That is not a sensible approach, but people get carried away. In three years’ time, if people say they want something bigger, then I’m not sure how they will do it at Tynecastle. However, for the foreseeable future I think building a new main stand, and including revenue-generating facilities, is excellent progress.
“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?’ It is in the middle of such a tightly locked portion of land, with few options to work with. I was always under the impression it would be better to start again, rather than dealing with all the problems. However, I have a much better handle on the problems now.”