Exeter Chiefs chief executive Tony Rowe is predicting a bright future ahead for the Aviva Premiership outfit after councillors in the city gave planning consent for the multi-million pound redevelopment of their Sandy Park Stadium.
In the proposals submitted by the ambitious Devon club, they intend – over at least the next five years – to double their ground capacity from 10,744 to 20,600.
The redevelopment plans, which will total in the region of £24 million when completed, will involve building three new state-of-the-art grandstands and a 1,000-seat auditorium, as well as rapidly expanding the venue's conference and banqueting facilities.
"I'm really pleased with Monday's outcome because it has been a long journey with Sandy Park," said Rowe. "We first talked to the City Council ten or 11 years ago and we got our original planning permission back in 2004. Since then we have worked closely with the council and various other bodies, particularly this latest six to nine months, to achieve this latest planning consent.
"This decision now means we can get on and develop Sandy Park as we wish over these next five to seven years."
With the club looking to raise finance for the scheme through the private sector, Rowe envisages the plans, which will start with a £7.5 million transformation of the existing West Grandstand, will help to transform the club not only into a major force within the English game, but also that of the European game in the long term.
Rowe added: "We hope over the next two or three years to build our average match-day attendance up to something like 10,000 a game – at the moment we are at 8,500 – and then look to develop ourselves even further as one of the top clubs in Europe, where we would hope to attract crowds of between 15,000 and 20,000."
To realise that dream, however, Rowe and his fellow board members know that the club must continue to flourish both on and off the field.
"We can't live just off 20 days of rugby a year," he said. "The other 340-odd days, Sandy Park is the major conferencing and banqueting facility in this part of the country. With the works we have planned, the idea is to develop Sandy Park into an even greater facility, attracting lots of money which in turn will help finance the rugby on the pitch.
"To succeed, it's all about creating the wealth so that Rob [Baxter] can put a decent team out. The first phase of the West Grandstand, we believe, will add an extra £500,000 on the bottom line and that will go straight into the playing budget."
Outlining the plans in full, Rowe is hopeful the first of the works on the West Grandstand will start early next year, providing that the necessary funding is in place.
"The first phase will be to redevelop the existing West Grandstand," he explained. "That will include expanding our current conferencing facilities by about 75 per cent – and also building wings on either end of the current grandstand to take our seating from 2,400 seats to that of 4,300.
"Then for 2013-14 we would look to start work on the South End development, which will including the building of a 1,000-seat auditorium and additional conferencing and banqueting facilities, before over time moving anti-clockwise around the stadium and replacing the current temporary stands with more permanent structures."
The detailed plans have been welcomed by many across the region, including Derek Phillips, vice-chairman of Exeter Chamber of Commerce, who said: "Sandy Park is a great example of success both on and off the pitch. The club is driving up business throughout the city."
John Harvey, Exeter City Centre manager, added: "The Exeter Chiefs have brought great sporting success and economic success to the city.
"The club is doing a remarkable job and this development will only be of benefit to everyone in the city."