Belgian Pro League football club Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (USG) has publicly presented its vision for a new stadium for the first time, stating that the project is a priority if it is to fulfil its ambitions domestically and in Europe.
The Brussels-based club, a historic name in Belgian football, returned to the top tier for the 2021-22 campaign after 48 years away, eventually finishing as runner-up – a position it also currently occupies this season.
USG’s successful comeback has led to renewed assessment of its stadium situation, with the Stade Joseph Marien deemed unsuitable. First opened in 1919, the stadium was redeveloped between 2016 and 2018 to its current capacity of 8,000 seats but is now hampering USG’s ambitions.
USG on Monday organised a first information session for fans, local residents and the media, regarding its vision for a stadium with a capacity of between 15,000 and 16,000 seats on currently underdeveloped land owned by the Municipality of Forest.
At Monday’s gathering, USG assured that the Parc du Bempt, as well as the surrounding green spaces, will remain intact, as will the current sports fields. The potential for retail outlets to be included in the plans has been discounted, with USG stating it intends to develop a stadium that “reflects the soul” of the club as much as possible.
The potential for a hotel to be developed on-site, which was part of initial talks back in 2018, has also been abandoned, with USG targeting a multi-functional stadium that could also be used for women’s national team games or Belgium’s rugby union team.
The stadium will be fully financed by the club, at a reported cost of between €80m (£70m/$86.9m) and €100m, with no financial support required from public authorities. USG chief executive, Philippe Bormans, said in a statement: “We have been working on this stadium project for more than four years and now we believe that it is time and that we are ready to present it.
“The new stadium will secure the club’s future for the next 50-60 years, it’s so much more important than any match win or award. During the information session, we did our best to answer all questions from residents and supporters, but we obviously remain open to dialogue with all those interested.
“There will also soon be a new meeting with the Municipality of Forest, at the end of which we hope for a positive result.”
In January 2022, a new stadium at the Municipality of Forest site, along with redevelopment of the Stade Joseph Marien or Stade Adrien Bertelson were three options presented by regional planning body Perspectives.brussels.
The first option is now being pursued, with Bormans explaining that USG has suffered a cumulative loss at its current home of almost €30m over the past five years. Annual income from ticket sales and sponsorship is also currently less than €5m, significantly less than Belgium’s other top teams.
“That is less than half of the average of the K12,” Bormans said, according to Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. “And the average of the G6 top clubs is four times higher with more than €20m in commercial revenue.
“The investors will not want to cover €5m in losses every season. As CEO, it is my job to ensure that this club can survive with its ambitions in the highest league without the money of the investors. A new stadium should make this club profitable in the long term.”
USG has made an offer of €3.5m for the land at the Parc du Bempt, with further talks scheduled with the Municipality at the end of the month. Bormans said: “We are not aiming for a mega complex with 30,000 fans. We are not going to compare ourselves to the G6, but want a stadium of 16,000 fans, tailored to Union that retains the identity of the club. With smart politics, we hope to remain competitive with the top clubs.”
Bormans also dismissed the suggestion of a potential groundshare with Anderlecht at the Stade Constant Vanden Stock. He added: “That is a dangerous idea. My answer is simple: Anderlecht and Union have a different DNA.
“That is also why we are not looking at the Stade Roi Baudouin. That would kill the club, then nobody will talk about Union anymore.”