Ulster get go-ahead to expand Ravenhill

A major redevelopment at the home of Ulster Rugby will get under way later this month after the club secured almost £15m (€18.7m) of promised British 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 £14.7m (€18.3m) 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 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.

“On behalf of Ulster Rugby, I would like to thank the minister and her department for releasing this funding,” he said.

“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.”

Ulster Rugby has appointed Northern Ireland-based general building contractor Gilbert-Ash NI to carry out the construction work.

The new Memorial End stand will provide covered seating for approximately 2,400 people, with terracing for a further 1,350 fans. It will house a ticket office, a shop, a bar and catering, and a new educational facility to promote the benefits of nutrition, a healthy lifestyle and the values of sport.

The new Aquinas stand will be the family area of the ground. It will provide covered seating for 2,100 people, with terracing for a further 1,300 fans. It will house new team changing facilities, treatment rooms, an indoor training surface and matchday media facilities.

It will also become the Ulster Rugby senior squad’s new training base, with a state-of-the-art gym, meeting rooms and facilities.

The replacement grandstand will accommodate 3,450 seated spectators, with standing for approximately 3,400 on the famous promenade below. This stand will also have bar and restaurant facilities.

The North's Environment Minister Alex Attwood granted planning permission for the redevelopment earlier this year.

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