This is Anfield 2016 - Liverpool unveil £100m stadium redesign
Liverpool have released the first images of the £100m stadium redesign to expand Anfield to a 53,250 capacity.
A revamped Main Stand which, subject to planning permission, will be completed in the next two years, adds 8,250 extra seats and increases the club's matchday revenue closer to that of Arsenal's £90m per year.
A formal planning application is expected in May, at which time Liverpool will also seek permission to expand a second stand - the Anfield Road end - by 4,825 seats. That would take the final capacity to 58,000, but the stadium will retain its historic identity with four, individual stands.
Liverpool have no immediate timescale on when the second phase of the development will go ahead - that will cost a further £50m - the initial focus being the Main Stand. A new '96th Avenue' to include the Hillsborough memorial is also a fundamental part of the first phase development.
Deals are agreed in principle with all the property owners in the Anfield neighbourhood - acquiring their signatures being the final obstacle to planning. Although nothing will be taken for granted, it is inconceivable after years of consultation that the green light will not be given for club owners Fenway Sports Group to press ahead by city planners, the intention being to start construction in January 2015 and complete for the start of the 2016/17 season.
Architects KSS have designed the new stand, although Liverpool are currently in the process of agreeing a deal with constructors. Although Liverpool have ruled out a stadium sponsor for Anfield, they will consider naming rights for the Main Stand.
The club's managing director, Ian Ayre, said the unveiling of designs represented a key milestone in the long running saga of the club's stadium project, which has been stalled for 15 years under three successive regimes.
"It's a significant step forward. With the club stepping forward on the pitch this season it's fitting that we're able to feel that we're making progress on the stadium," said Ayre.
"We've said all the way along that we'll have to have certainty and we're careering towards certainty on the properties. We are going into a consultation process on planning and then the next level of certainty for us is the planning stage.
"We can't just presume that we'll get planning but again we'd like to be optimistic about that. It would be fantastic for the football club and the fans if we can continue our progress on the pitch and with the stadium because hand in hand they support each other.
"We set out a very clear set of objectives and timescales to achieve what we want to achieve on the stadium and it's very much on track. Although for the fans it feels like it's been a ten year or more wait, under this ownership we've been at this in earnest for two to two and a half years and we've made progress in keeping with the plan we set."
A key element of the new design is accommodating an expanded corporate area, essential to enable Liverpool to close the financial gap on Premier League and European rivals.
Liverpool currently make around half the matchday revenue of Arsenal and it's the London club they want to match longer-term.
Although there is a season ticket waiting list of 20,000 at Anfield, Ayre said the club had to err on the side of caution before leaping direct into a 58,000 seat stadium.
"Obviously for all the big games we could sell out a lot more than we do," he said. "We have huge demand, particularly now, but when you're doing the financial model for a stadium or an expansion you have to look at every game, including other competitions, and you also have to look at when you don't do so well because this thing's got to be paid back whether you're doing well on the pitch or not.
"You have to take a sort of pessimistic view of performance. You have to model not to play in Europe. We know we've still got about 20,000 on a season ticket waiting list and corporately we did a study which shows there is a demand there, but the proof is in the pudding. This is phase one and if that works we'll step forward again."
FSG wanted to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who made lavish promises and rushed through plans for a new stadium without having the finances to put a spade in the ground.
Principal owner John W Henry abandoned the Hicks plan after a review of stadium options and sanctioned a more thorough feasibility study regarding staying at Anfield. Finally, this is the result.
Ayre said: "As someone who was here at that time (of Hicks and Gillett), I definitely had some concerns about whether we would ever get there but I think anyone who looks at the great work this ownership group have done since taking over, everything is about things being properly thought through and properly considered despite any pressure that might come.
"We'll always take our time to find the right solution and I've never been in doubt that we'd find a solution under this group. Staying at Anfield and finding such a great solution is fantastic for everyone. "
Henry made it known last year that funds are already in place to begin construction once planning is secured, and as a major investment in the club's infrastructure a £100m investment is in line with FFP regulations.