A planned £4 million revamp of Solitude will see underground car parking and enhanced community facilities built in what will be one of the largest investments ever to be seen in North Belfast.
Cliftonville Chairman Gerard Lawlor has said he wants to develop even stronger ties with local people and groups and make the club a resource that is open seven days a week for community use.
Gerard was speaking after application plans were lodged for the development. He said a lot of consultation had already gone into the project and what was made clear in meetings with local residents was the issue of parking had to be dealt with.
“As everyone knows we have a major issue with parking around the streets and we need to take the traffic away from local residents. We are hoping we can come in down the lane way and we will be investing very heavily in underground car parking. Basically we’ve looked at everything else and there’s nowhere else to go. Unfortunately people aren’t reducing their car ownership.”
But he says parking is only one aspect of the plans and the club had to look at its overall position.
“Whatever happens to the stadium in the future, I have come to learn that a football team on a Saturday doesn’t make you a success. The success that we have and the success for the future will all come from the community’s involvement in the football club.
“A club has to be something other than what happens for two hours every other Saturday and the community have always been of paramount importance in this.”
Among the biggest changes to be seen will be the removal of the main stand which Gerard says is an “eyesore”.
The stand that will replace it will house modern facilities that community groups will be able to use.
“We will replace the old social club with a new club house and associated facilities. My vision is that Cliftonville is a base for mothers and toddlers in the morning, after schools clubs in the afternoon and maybe OAPs playing bingo in the evening.
“The biggest part of this will be providing space where the community can work.”
Gerard said they were looking at a number of funding sources and talks would be continuing with statutory bodies to progress the development.