THINGS ARE LOOKING UP AT SOMERSET PARK

WELLINGTON

THORNE TRAVEL

Ayr United Chairman, David Smith, reveals his plans for a modernised stadium

by Iain Ferguson

As a young boy watching his beloved Ayr United, David Smith had a favourite place to stand at Somerset Park and watch the action with his Dad. That place was on the north terracing.

So many years later in his role as Owner-Chairman of United, when David unveiled ambitious plans to build a new North Stand there was one feature of the development that was essential – a standing area.

Work began on the £2 million project at the end of June and all going well it will be completed in time for the start of the 2024-2025 season. In addition to the terracing, there will be 700 seats and state of the art hospitality facilities.

Explaining why retention of terracing was a must, David, Managing Director of Ashleigh (Scotland) who are undertaking the development, said: “We wanted to keep the charm of the terracing and if I’d taken that away my Dad would have shot me because when he used to drive me from our home in Girvan to watch Ayr United when I was a boy, that’s where we used to stand. I was always keen to keep the terracing but also to bring it into the 21st century.”

The hospitality suites in the new build are something that David is obviously proud of as he explained: “We aim to have the best hospitality offering we can and we will have boxes and a facility at the back with a brand new kitchen and bar. We will be able to cater for up to 140 and can also sub divide the area. We will also host functions such as birthdays and weddings and can cater for conferences.”

David and his directors and staff had been encouraged in the season recently ended by the demand for hospitality at Somerset Park and he added: “A huge success story has been the Ally MacLeod Suite and our Commercial Manager, Martin Tocker, has had it rammed most weeks not only with local businesses but also individuals and groups of supporters with the Black and White packages really taking off.

“The corporate world locally around Ayr United has really answered the call and justified what we are doing. It’s a real pity we are going to have to take a year out while we are building the new facility and it will dent our numbers but sometimes you just have to swallow that.”

Another plus that will come with the new North Stand is that it will provide plenty of sponsorship opportunities with space for advertisers on the front of the stand, the verge and the canopy.

Due to the fact that work will be continuing on the project all through the 2023-2024 season, fans will be able to watch its development stage by stage and David highlighted some of the landmark moments.

“This will more or less be built in front of the fans’ eyes. For example, when the hospitality suite is demolished that will be a big ticket day.

“Other major landmarks will be when the piling rigs will be going in and when the first column goes up, that will be a huge occasion. The way it’s getting designed and built, the steel work and the precast goes hand in hand and that’s going to be exciting to see.”

Other major steps on the way will be the cladding going on and the day the first seat is installed.

David first unveiled the plans at a Vision Night in Cameron’s Bar in The Hub just over a year ago but long before that he had put his idea of the project down on paper.

He recalled: “When I first got involved in the Club we didn’t own the land at the bottom of the hospitality suites or behind them so I bought those areas three or four years ago. Without owning that land we couldn’t do this project. At around that time I sketched on a piece of paper in my kitchen what I wanted it to look like and the architects and consultants have done a great job in taking it from my ‘fag packet’ sketch to how it is going to end up.”

David will be Contracts Manager on the project with Kenny Milliken the Project Manager, while one of Ashleigh’s senior Quantity Surveyors, Gordon McRae, himself a huge Ayr United fan, will be the lead person on the commercial side.

Underlining his hands-on role David said: “I’ll be in every day just making sure things are moving along and that everything is getting done properly.”

The time scale is that the new facilities should be up and running for the 2024-2025 season but as David points out there are caveats. Even getting to the stage of starting the build has not been plain sailing.

He explained: “We carried out a site investigation on the north terracing and it came back saying it was full of horrible stuff. Clancy Consulting have been through that with our environmental engineers and come up with a plan but it’s very expensive and much more costly than I thought but we are dealing with it. We need to pile it and put gas membranes in. We have had to slightly shrink the build so it’s phased but the fan experience won’t be compromised.”

The new stand, hospitality suites, offices and terracing will proceed in phase one with further phases including business club, a sensory room and more offices having the option to be added at a later date.
David stressed: “I am really excited as what we have now is the flexibility to go back and add on and I’m quite liking that. I’d also like to say the support we’ve had from South Ayrshire Council has been great and the work done by our design teams at Denham Youd and Clancy Consulting has been out of this world.”

The North Stand project is not the first major development he has undertaken since becoming Ayr United Chairman two and a half years ago.

The Hub at the corner of Somerset Road and Tryfield Place opened its doors in November 2021 and houses not only offices for senior club management and Academy staff but a well-appointed Club Shop and Cameron’s Bar.

It is a building that David is proud of as he told me: “I couldn’t be happier with the Hub. We have lovely modern offices for the Club and the Academy to work out of and that’s great. What they were based in before wasn’t good.

“Having a nice new shop is a huge plus and the feedback from that has been very positive and Cameron’s is awesome. It’s busy before and after games and hosts functions. It also has a brilliant Beer Garden which is fab.”

The Hub is also home to various community projects run by the Academy including The Strollers, the Honest Man’s Club and Football Memories.

“People suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s are coming in,” said David. “One woman said she felt she had got her father back for the afternoon. He couldn’t remember anything but someone started talking about an old football match and he said, ‘Oh I remember that!’”

As testament to the work done by Ayr United in the community earlier this year, the Academy won the Silver Award at the UEFA Grassroots Awards gaining praise for its increasing outreach programme. French giants Marseille won the Gold Award with NK Istra from Croatia picking up Bronze.

To see Ayr United rubbing shoulders with the elite of European football gave everyone at the club a huge boost. With the prospect of the superb new North Stand development coming on stream in a year’s time, the club having enjoyed their most successful season on the park in 22 years, and crowds and season ticket sales increasing year on year, it’s fair to say things are certainly looking up at Somerset Park.

Throughout the interview David’s love for Ayr United shone through and the club is fortunate to have someone so committed at the helm. As he put it himself: “Not only can I deliver projects like the Hub and the North Stand in terms of building them but can also deliver in terms of paying for them.”

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