Ann Budge admits it will take up to a year to properly complete Tynecastle Park’s new £15million main stand. The Hearts owner is comfortable with the situation having agreed with manager Craig Levein that players continue using the Wheatfield Stand dressing rooms and tunnel next season.
Budge expects every aspect of the project to be finished in 12 months’ time, but for the moment she is balancing finances. Yesterday she collected Foundation of Hearts’ final instalment of their £3million contribution to the stand on behalf of the club’s support.
Now it is about patience to finish various internal areas which are so far incomplete – whilst still funding Hearts’ £6m wage bill, player recruitment, youth academy and managing other operating costs.
“Clearly the club has a certain amount of resources and we have to decide where that goes,” explained Budge. “We have continued, despite all of this, to invest in the academy, continued to support Craig in as many ways as we can and that will continue.
“I would love this stand to be completed as quickly as we can because then all the business we do can go towards the playing squad. But we still have a way to go. I still have to balance things and see what we need for the football department, what we need for the academy. It is about balance.
“I would like to think that, by this time next year, we will have finished it. But it will take that length of time. We haven’t started on the second floor yet. I want to finish everything that has been started and do the top floor and the middle floor.
“All the heavy stuff is done in the middle floor. It’s really a matter of saying: ‘How big do the rooms need to be? How big does the kitchen need to be?’ These sorts of things.
“Once we get started I don’t think it will take that long, but we need to know we’ve got the funding in place to finish it. I don’t want to start the second floor and get halfway through it. It’s a balance.”
The Wheatfield Stand dressing rooms will be used by home and away players on matchdays until further notice. That could potentially remain the case until the start of season 2019/20.
“I agreed that with Craig and he’s perfectly happy. The changing rooms there are absolutely fine. That’s not my top priority, although that might sound strange. We accommodated the dressing rooms over there last year. If we have to go the full season still using them then that’s not an issue.”
Another added outlay is Tynecastle’s new hybrid pitch, which should be ready for use come July in the Betfred League Cup group stage. It will cost almost an extra £1m. “I knew we would have to do something and I got a ballpark estimate 18 months ago. It hasn’t come as a surprise but we’ve had to add it into the mix when it comes to how we use our resources. It’s not quite £1m but it will be pretty close to it,” said Budge, adding that the new surface shows further commitment to the team.
“It does, absolutely. We re-turfed the pitch 18 months ago and it cost £120,000-£130,000. We did it saying: ‘Please see us through for a season and a half.’ We always knew we’d have to do it. After nearly 20 years, it’s definitely time to do the pitch.”
All of the above are intended to give Hearts the greatest chance of future on-field success. Budge’s ambition in that area hasn’t altered. She still expects a marked improvement on this season’s sixth-place Premiership finish.
“We want to be contesting at the top of the table and we want to be back in Europe,” said the Edinburgh businesswoman. “I don’t think we will ever be saying anything other than we want to be in the top three or four clubs in Scotland. That hasn’t changed. We fell a bit short of it this year but we will keep aspiring to do that.”
Some Hearts fans are disgruntled at this season’s mediocrity but most Budge encounters around the Capital understand the situation. “I am still in the fortunate position that any feedback is positive,” she said. “In terms of being around Edinburgh, nobody has came up and said anything negative.
“Its all been, ‘thanks for what you are doing even though it’s not been the best season’. I don’t do social media. I have been warned off it so many times.
“The majority of the supporters are very realistic. They know that four years ago they were in a really bad place. We have not made third or fourth this season but we are still here and things are still going well and improving.”
Relentless backing from the Gorgie public has much to do with it. Foundation of Hearts have covered a fifth of the cost of the new stand, and without them the whole project would have taken significantly longer.
That could have meant a full season playing home games at BT Murrayfield rather than just the four Hearts hosted there earlier this season. “That could well have been the case,” said Budge. “Instead, because we had the funds behind us, we were able to keep pushing and pushing and get things done as quickly as we could.”
Budge suggested to FoH two years ago that, instead of repaying her for the £2.5m she used to get Hearts out of administration in 2014, that plan should be deferred to plough all monies into the stand. The fan group will now revert to paying back the owner for her original outlay.
“I think it [the final payment] is a huge landmark because when I made the suggestion originally we had some of the funding in place but we needed to find some more. It has been amazing. The fact they took it on board so quickly and now, without a hitch, we have the £3m,” said Budge.
“It has not been the season we all hoped it would be in terms of onfield performance but it hasn’t stopped the fans backing us, which is terrific.
“We would have had to find another source of funds [without them] and my objective had always been to do what we had to do without getting the club into debt.
“From that perspective, I wouldn’t say that the stand couldn’t have gone ahead, but would we have been able to go ahead so quickly and do it in such a short space of time? No. I needed to know we had the funds there.”