Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Crusaders ready to make £25m leap forward with new stadium

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Crusaders are in line for major investment which could make their £25 million dream of a new stadium a reality.

Crusaders fans were informed at the weekend that an investor has been secured to lead the £25 million development at Giants Park.

It is great news for the Seaview club following the disappointment of the rejection of their £14.2 million bid to the SEUPB (Special EU Programmes Body).

Since then a revised plan has been put into operation with an investor now waiting in the wings to ensure the ambitious project goes ahead.

The new stadium would be based at Giants Park along the Dargan Road, just 800 yards from the club’s Seaview home.

While Crues fans wait for the move to take place, Seaview Enterprises (the stadium working group) are keen to make sure their current home is up to scratch.

To that end a stadia safety grant, which would provide two new modular style 650-seat stands estimated at a cost of £880,000, has been applied for.

However, the deadline for that construction is tight — around £38,000 will have to be coughed up to complete the application by March 31 next year.

Crusaders have been chasing their stadium dream for several years but there is now finally light at the end of a long, dark tunnel and supporters were informed of the positive developments on Saturday.

One club spokesman said: “Now that land and money has been secured for the new stadium, we are confident it will happen.”

Crusaders officials will meet with Belfast City Council representatives tomorrow to discuss the latest developments.

The substantial cash injection from an investor has breathed fresh life into the stadium plans and the end result could be Ireland’s first indoor football stadium.

The investor who is backing the Crusaders/Newington project has also been in discussions with a Premier League club regarding a new home in England.

If Belfast City Council throw their weight behind the clubs’ proposals, then Crusaders and Newington could move into their new home within five or six years.

“Football does not pay and the financial situation at the club is desperately tight,” added the Crusaders spokesman.

“A club cannot function on the back of its ticket sales. The 4G pitch was brought in to keep the ground open longer and generate revenue. Re-laid in the off-season, it has now received its FIFA 2 Star certificate but there will always be a few critics as football is all about opinions.”

If the Crues move to a new home, Seaview is likely to make way for apartments or more residential accommodation — and the housing market, which is struggling to spring to life, could be more vibrant in five years time.

A planning application for 16 apartments at St Vincent Street is ready for submission and will be discussed at a bond-holders meeting later this month.

“It’s a difficult economic climate as everyone knows,” added the Crues spokesman. “Perhaps the market will recover and the club can benefit from that.” Crusaders certainly cannot be accused of standing still. They are a forward thinking club with their 4G pitch constantly paying dividends, as Sports Minister Nelson McCausland appreciates.

He says: “Football clubs now are looking at innovative ways of increasing income.

“Crusaders have the 4G pitch and I drive past Seaview every night and the lights are on and the ground is being used.

“There may be criticisms over the playing surface but it is really valuable and makes things more viable.”

On a potential new stadium for the Crues, McCausland added: “Some time ago I looked at proposals put forward by Crusaders and Derry City about developing a ground and having commercial premises on that so that you are actually getting income from shops.

“In whatever way you can make your sport or team viable, that needs to happen right across Northern Ireland.

“If we get good models, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

“You simply replicate that model elsewhere.”

More hurdles have to be overcome — for example there are planning and road issues to be addressed at Giants Park — but the emergence of an investor has fuelled the club’s stadium dream.

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