Sir Jim Ratcliffe is exploring different ways to improve Manchester United‘s historic home of Old Trafford. According to The Telegraph, the British billionaire essentially wants to create a “Wembley of the North” in Manchester. Wembley Stadium, the home of the England national team, is currently the largest soccer arena in the country.

Completed in 2007, Wembley holds up to 90,000 fans for matches. Old Trafford is currently the second-largest soccer stadium in the United Kingdom, as it accommodates about 74,000 people. Not only does Ratcliffe want to expand United’s home, but he also wants to update the building as well. After all, the “The Theater of Dreams” opened back in 1910.

Building new stadium on Old Trafford site could be cheaper in the long run

Anonymous sources close to Ratcliffe have claimed that the billionaire wants United to have a modern and glorious stadium. “He feels the club needs an absolute state-of-the-art, knock-it-out-of-the-park, ‘wow’ stadium,” the source told Telegraph Sport.

“And we feel there’s a strong argument for the country having a top-class major venue in the North – a Wembley of the North.”

Despite this, Ratcliffe also does not want to relocate the team to another area in Manchester. This means that ownership would then either have to heavily renovate Old Trafford or build a new arena on the property.

Expanding Old Trafford is currently an option to appease the businessman. However, experts believe that renovating a 114-year-old building has significant drawbacks. Chris Lee, the managing director of the firm in charge of the project, previously told Telegraph Sport that building a whole new stadium could “turn out to be the most cost-effective solution” for Ratcliffe.

“The building is reaching the end of its natural life; the cabling, the electricity supplies, everything is nearing its sell-by date,” stated Lee.

Ratcliffe looking to use public funding for Old Trafford project

Renovating the existing Old Trafford would initially be cheaper for the United ownership. It is believed that solely expanding the current arena could cost a minimum of $1 billion. Erecting an entirely new stadium, however, would reach $2.5 billion in construction costs.

While Ratcliffe’s current net worth is around $20 billion, the billionaire is looking at ways to get public funding for the new plan. One of these options is to ask government officials for funds using the “leveling up” project.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has labeled the initiative as a way to create jobs, increase growth, and make residents feel “pride” in their local areas. Nevertheless, some feel as if it is wrong for a multi-billionaire to ask for public funding through taxpayers.

In the United States, professional sports team owners regularly use taxpayer money to build new stadiums. This, however, does not necessarily make it right.

A 1997 study on the construction of Camden Yards, the then-new stadium of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, essentially determined that the economic impact resulted in a net loss for the city. Baltimore residents were collectively forced to pay around $14 million annually for five years to build the arena.

Nevertheless, major English soccer clubs rarely use significant public funding for new stadiums. Manchester City previously collected millions in taxpayer money to erect Etihad Stadium. The major difference, however, is the fact that the reigning European champions do not own the stadium itself. Instead, City officials are leasing the arena directly from the Manchester City Council. United, on the other hand, will retain control of their new arena project.