Liverpool stadium plans: Anfield expansion for return to Champions League elite
£150m investment will see stadium challenge Arsenal's match-day revenues
Liverpool's commercial and footballing resurgence has been underlined as the club's long-awaited stadium expansion plans revealed the spectacular new face of the £100m redevelopment of Anfield's Main Stand.
With the club also seeking approval to increase the Anfield Road Stand by a further 4,800 seats, Liverpool believe that their return to a place among the Champions League elite – confirmed with victory at Norwich last Sunday – can coincide with match-day revenues to challenge Arsenal's, even though Manchester United's vastly bigger capacity keeps them a way ahead.
The reconfiguration of Anfield is not how it was always imagined, as The Kop will no longer be the biggest stand. But with the capacity rising from 45,500 to 54,000 after the first expansion phase – which could begin early next year, with completion in time for the 2016-17 season – and 58,800 thereafter, the club finally hopes to have a stadium with a size befitting its international appeal, for an overall £150m investment.
The plans, which went on public display on Wednesday night and will be on show in the Anfield Family Zone during Sunday's crucial home match with Chelsea, include a two-storey podium and a cloister which will become the new home for the Hillsborough Memorial. The designs, undertaken by architects KSS, demonstrate that a purpose-built stadium was not the only way for the club to develop. They could have spent £500m on a new ground for an extra 16,000 capacity but instead will have invested £150m for a 13,300 lift.
Asked about the criticism of Arsenal that the Emirates Stadium project left manager Arsène Wenger with less money to invest in his team, Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, said: "I can't comment on Arsenal but we've certainly… found a solution that had a return on investment as quickly as possible – because there's no point in investing hundreds of millions of pounds of the club's money if it just burdens you with debt that prevents you from being able to invest. That wouldn't be helping you; it'd actually be hindering you. That's why £600m-£700m stadiums don't work because you're just setting yourself back rather than forward."
Artist’s impression of Anfield after the development of the Main Stand and Anfield Road Stand
Ayre admitted that there were times – during the dark days when Liverpool were taken to the brink of administration by the former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr – when he thought an expanded capacity would never come. Hicks and Gillett promised a new stadium when they took over in 2007, but could not afford to build it after their leveraged buyout of the club proved financially disastrous.
The substantial increase in corporate hospitality will help pay for the new development, which will be carried out without any need for Anfield to be taken out of action.
Liverpool's struggles of the past few decades have created a financial realism, with plans for the secondary Anfield Road expansion dependent on it being viable. "For all the big games we could sell out a lot more than we do. We have huge demand, particularly now," Ayre said. "But when you're doing the financial model for a stadium or an expansion you have to look at every game in a season, including other competitions, and to look at seasons when you don't do so well."
Liverpool City Council has undertaken the complex job of seeking to buy properties in the area to allow Anfield's development, with compulsory purchase a possibility. The council is close to agreement with all owners and the club expects to refine plans, if necessary, and submit a planning application to the council during the summer.
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