Funding go-ahead for rugby stadium
A major redevelopment at the home of Ulster Rugby will get under way later this month after the club secured almost £15 million of promised Government funding.
The construction of three new stands at Ravenhill in east Belfast is due to be completed by the summer of 2014. The revamp will increase capacity at the historic venue from 11,400 to 18,000.
It provides a timely boost for a team on the up. Tickets for Ulster games are currently at a premium, with their unbeaten start to the season leading to frequent sell-outs.
The work on Ravenhill mirrors similar Stormont Executive-backed redevelopments at Belfast's Casement Park gaelic games venue and Windsor Park football stadium, the home of the Northern Ireland international team.
Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has officially released the £14.7 million pledged for Ulster Rugby's plan. The club is seeking a naming partner for the new-look stadium and is in discussion with a number of interested parties.
The construction, by building contractor Gilbert-Ash NI, will be carried out in phases to minimise the impact on capacity. New stands will go up at the Memorial and Aquinas ends by next June before the existing main stand is torn down and replaced.
The three new structures will complement the recently-opened Mount Merrion stand and transform Ravenhill, which was opened in 1923, into one of the most modern rugby grounds in Europe. The new capacity will surpass the threshold required to host a RaboDirect PRO12 Final or a Heineken Cup quarter final.
Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan hailed the redevelopment.
He said: "On behalf of Ulster Rugby, I would like to thank the minister and her department for releasing this funding. This investment will create a modern, state-of-the-art stadium with the highest standard of facilities for both supporters and players. The new Ravenhill will enhance the position of Ulster Rugby in the world game and will greatly benefit the development of rugby in the Province."
Ms Ni Chuilin said the redevelopment would give Ulster fans the stadium they deserve. She said: "This is a great day for Ulster Rugby which will secure their future in this part of Belfast and contribute to their continued success... The stadium will be completed by September 2014 when Ulster Rugby will have a world class stadium, with the wider benefits being enjoyed for many years to come."