Not so long ago, Ann Budge feared she would have to pull Hearts out of Gorgie – now she’s hellbent on galvanising the area as much as she has the club.
The owner finally brought an end to years of speculation that the Jambos could quit Tynecastle when she confirmed at yesterday’s annual general meeting that they will be staying put and replacing the old main stand with a new one. Plans are close to being finalised for a venture which will modernise the club’s spiritual home and increase the capacity from just over 17,000 to at least 20,000.
The stand will be single-tiered and built to the same height as each of the other three stands.
Work is due to begin next year to clear the area behind the stand on McLeod Street, in order to increase the available space, with the new structure itself expected to be erected in the close season ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
Ms Budge is excited by the developments, although she admitted there was a point where she felt Hearts would have to leave Gorgie in order to move forward.
“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 said.
“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 sat over in the Wheatfield Stand was ‘I hope they never build a great big stand over there, it’s a lovely view of the Castle’.
“How we’ll overcome that, I don’t know. 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 of the problems now.
“The other three stands, albeit pretty basic, have nothing wrong with them.
“There are things we can do in the undercroft there and plenty of opportunities to really improve the stadium as a whole. In the new stand there will be hospitality, function rooms and other things. I think it will be something special.”
Ms Budge feels that, in addition to benefiting Hearts, the arrival of a new stand will improve the entire area around McLeod Street, which she feels has become something of an eyesore.
She said: “It’s actually about redeveloping the whole of the Tynecastle area. McLeod Street is terrible.
“The Tynecastle school I think is very nice but then you look at the other side of the road and it’s awful. If you actually take it as a bigger plan, I think we can do a lot.
“Our objective isn’t just to build a new stand, it is to put Tynecastle back on the map as a really desirable area of Edinburgh.”
In order to make building a new stand a possibility, Hearts have to obtain land behind the stand, and Ms Budge is confident the formalities of that process will be completed in the next month or so before plans can be officially unveiled to the public.
“We have been concentrating on getting more space,” she said. “We need more space and the club only owned the stadium and none of the land behind the main stand, so the priority if we want to stay at Tynecastle is getting that land.
“We have purchased some of it and the deal will go through today if all the legals have been done and all the finances have also been done. It has been paid for and as of today we will own part of that land. But we need more and we are in very, very advanced discussions to finalise that. We have got a deal and it is just the logistics of pulling it together.
“I am pretty confident and I am working to a timetable that says that, hopefully by the end of January, we will have concluded all the legals in terms of getting all the land that is needed.
“That was always number one because if we can’t get that, we can’t do anything. Hand in hand with that we are working with a number of different architects with a number of different ideas.
“We know the idea we prefer and we have had fairly detailed conversations with them and have outlined designs. We know what it will look like and we have got construction plans and so forth. We have timetables and are quite far on but, that said, it is a big planning process.”
Ms Budge is keen to ensure that the venture doesn’t leave Hearts in debt, and hopes that supporters will help fund it, possibly through the Foundation of Hearts. She is also open to the possibility of selling the naming rights.
“There are a number of options I am looking at [for funding],” she said. “I think the two things I have got at the forefront of my mind is I don’t want to land the club with debt.
“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.”
In addition to the stand, the club are set to unveil their memorial garden next week, while they hope to open their new museum underneath the Gorgie Stand before the end of the season.