OVG-ASM in war of words over new arena in Manchester


Manchester Arena OVG-ASM update April 2020 Image: OVG/Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times

Plans from Oak View Group (OVG) – an American global advisory, development and investment company for the sports and live entertainment industries – for a new “best in class” 23,500-capacity arena at Manchester in UK – was published on April 1st. This is the latest initiative in the endeavor to deliver a facility that would rival the existing Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom.

However, ASM Global, who runs the Manchester Arena, is crying foul over the whole development and has called for “proper scrutiny”.

OVG International is one of the sponsorers for the Coliseum Summit Europe to held at Ascot Racecourse in UK on September 2-3, 2020.

The Manchester Arena is an indoor arena in Manchester, England, and can accommodate 21,000 spectators. It is one of the world’s busiest indoor arenas, hosting music and sporting events such as boxing and swimming. The arena has the highest seating capacity of any indoor venue in UK, and second largest in Europe.

The planning submission for the proposed venue has been validated and uploaded to Manchester City Council’s planning portal, with OVG firm that the English city has the capacity, and demand, to warrant a second major arena.

The proposed arena will be adjoining the Etihad Stadium, residence of Premier League football club Manchester City. It will be OVG’s first venture outside its US homeland and the largest privately financed venue in the UK, with £350m (€395.4m/$432.7m) direct investment going into the city.

The proposed arena will occupy a 5.5-acre site bound to the north by Sportcity Way, the west by Joe Mercer Way, the east by Alan Turing Way and the south by the Ashton Canal.

The proposed venue’s maximum capacity will be 23,500, significantly larger than the regular operating capacity of the existing Manchester Arena. OVG claims that the arena operated at under 15,000-capacity for 90 percent of events from 2014 to 2018. However, an early-stage refurbishment vision was unlocked in March for Manchester Arena that would expand its overall capacity to 24,000, making it the largest indoor arena in Europe.

The arena unveiled the vision to mark 25 years since the venue opened in the year 1995. The US-based venue and event management company – ASM Global – which operates the arena and is fighting tooth and nail the OVG project, provided a first glimpse at the reconfiguration plans, which would witness new concourse levels introduced.

The submission of the OVG application comes close on the heels of ASM Global, operators of Manchester Arena, revealing designs by American design practice HOK which would see the venue’s capacity increase to 24,000, leapfrogging Oak View’s proposals to make it the largest arena of its kind in Europe.

In February this year, OVG confirmed it was bringing forward a planning application, and raised the pitch that Manchester has the capacity for two major venues. OVG has teamed up with City Football Group (CFG), parent company of Manchester City, on the proposed project. In August last year, OVG confirmed it was working with CFG on the potential development of a new arena in close vicinity to the Etihad Stadium.

If the arena gets the planning go-ahead, it is being anticipated that the venue would take three years to be erected. The first events are being planned to be staged in 2023. In October last year, OVG and CFG completed the first phase of public consultation on the project, and initial details behind the plan were revealed, such as its proposed location and an early artists’ impression.

In December last year, news of a possible second major arena for Manchester became visible and since then volley of questions has been hurled on the project. The Manchester City Council in July added the proposed new arena as a future possibility under its development masterplan for the area. In June, the Council hit back at a report on the proposed facility which claimed Manchester cannot sustain two large-scale arenas.

As of now, OVG has laid out its vision for the new arena. As UK boasts promising market for live entertainment, including music, family shows, and sport, OVG informed that analysis undertaken as part of the planning and design process by Ekosgen (Specialist Economic Development and Regeneration Consultancy located throughout the UK) and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) shows that Manchester’s economic and cultural strength supports two successful arenas.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is a multinational professional services network of firms headquartered in London, United Kingdom.

OVG said the analysis indicates new arenas push overall growth in the market, and there are several examples across the UK of two arenas adjacent to each other reaping commercial benefits. It argued the opening of a new arena has never led to an existing arena shutting shop in a single city or overlapping catchment area, and there are various examples of arenas adapting their market positioning and continuing to keep the cash registers jingling.

To buttress its argument, OVG specifically pointed to one of the two arenas in Birmingham, Resorts World Arena, which last month outlined plans to increase its capacity by a further 6,000 to 21,500, adding this best demonstrates how two arenas can script a success story in one city.

OVG stated the Market Assessment analysis clearly showed a second arena will boost the economy with city center businesses benefiting in a big way, where the majority of hotels, serviced accommodation, food, beverage, and retail businesses are based. In the most conservative scenario, OVG said a second arena would lead to a 58 percent increase in GVA (gross value added) from visitor expenditure compared to the current position, while the most ambitious scenario would result in an 80 percent increase.

Speaking in terms of location, OVG said an arena at the Etihad Campus site would make the best use of the latent economic capacity of the Campus, resulting in significant benefits to the community, and further help in the advancement of this destination as a world-class sporting and leisure destination.

The Etihad Campus was selected as it was advantageous from all sides – suitability, availability, and viability for the proposed arena. OVG said it is an accessible site that is well connected to the center by non-car modes, with significant sustainable transport connections to the city center and beyond.

OVG said the location also helps Manchester to attract and retain a wide range of sports, esports and entertainment events, and the ambience provided by the Campus – the practice and warm-up space – is a perfect fit.

The plans outline that the arena would generate 3,350 jobs during construction and more than 1,000 once it goes on stream. OVG said it would make certain that maximum jobs go to the local people and will give priority to hiring people who lives a stone’s throw away.

Etihad Campus boasts its own tram stop, while it is also well connected by bus routes and is around a 30-minute walk from the city center. Transport studies point out that 40 percent of visitors (or approximately 20,000 people) to the Etihad Stadium on match days currently arrive by non-car modes. OVG said this reflects the maximum capacity of most arena events and therefore “clearly demonstrates” the opportunity afforded by this location for sustainable transport enhancements.

As far as sustainability is concerned, the proposed arena will strive to leave minimum carbon footprints and aim to be one of the most ‘green arena’ in the world. The plans would build on sustainability initiatives and frameworks already in place at the Etihad Campus.

Said Tim Leiweke, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of OVG, “The city has undergone transformational growth in recent years, but without a new state-of-the-art arena it will continue to lose out to other cities on some of the world’s best events. Our design brief for the new arena was three-fold. We want to deliver the best in class artist-fan experience for any arena in Europe; to have the flexibility to accommodate multiple event types so Manchester can host a broader range of music, sport and entertainment events; and to aim to build the most sustainable arena in the UK.”

He added, “We knew that to be a success, our proposals for a new venue needed to work alongside the existing arena, ensure a demonstrable socio-economic uplift for the city, and support the ongoing regeneration efforts underway in East Manchester. We are pleased that in-depth studies, with industry trends, economic data and growth forecasts all interrogated, indicate that Manchester could support two successful arenas, even under the most conservative growth projections.”

To drive home his point, Tim further said, “We’re also incredibly grateful for the guidance and feedback from local people and the city’s business community over the last seven months. We are confident the plans we are presenting today are extremely beneficial for the city and will put Manchester on the global entertainment map for decades.”

According to the design and access statement, “The OVG Manchester Venue is designed to be the best in class concert venue in Europe by creating a bespoke, intimate, flexible and acoustically exceptional auditorium space for the city of Manchester.”

Deloitte is acting as planner and Populous has drawn up the designs.

Design practice Populous has worked on a number of large arena and stadium projects including the 62,000 capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London and the $375m T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, US.

The professional team includes BuroHappold as Structural and Civil Engineer, ME Engineers as Environmental Engineer and MEP Consultant, Turner & Townsend as quantity surveyor, Vanguardia on acoustics and Satore Studio as architectural lighting consultant.

It is understood that Bam Construction is lined up as lead contractor for the project.

At odds

ASM Global, operator of the Manchester Arena, has called for the plans to receive “proper scrutiny” from the city council. ASM Global is crying foul over OVG plans to come up with a venue close to the Etihad Campus. They are simply not amused and refuse to buy into OVG’s arguments that two big arenas at the same place can bring in economic boom.

John Sharkey, Executive Vice-President for European operations for ASM Global, has been critical of the idea of a second arena in the city, suggesting that the market could not support two 20,000-plus venues, an opinion which is refuted by Oak View Group’s head honcho Mark Donnelly.

In response to Oak View Group’s application ASM Global released a statement which said, “We will undertake a detailed review of the application, but at first glance we can see that a number of the reports referenced in the application do not appear to be included within the published planning documents.”

The statement added, “Clearly those reports should be disclosed so the Council and the people of Manchester can properly interrogate the applicant’s assertion that a second arena will benefit the City.”

OVG’ Leiweke beg to differ, “While we are living in uncertain times, we know that Manchester and its people are resilient. And we look forward to being intrinsic to the redevelopment of the east of the city, working in close partnership with local people who are the most important part of this project. Manchester is a thriving and vibrant city – and along with BAM, Populous, and our other incredible partners, we are excited about a new addition to its entertainment scene in the coming months.”

Declan Sharkey, Senior Principal and Project Architect at Populous, added, “This ground-breaking venue will set new benchmarks in sustainable arena design, as well as creating an experience and form that sits perfectly within Manchester’s architectural context and vibrant community.”

Manchester Arena is located near the city center and OVG’s venue would be located to the east of the city, on land adjacent to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. With this in mind, ASM Global believes the construction of a new arena would divert footfall away from the city center.

A statement sent out by ASM Global read, “It is unfortunate that this planning application for an out of town arena has been submitted at an extremely challenging time for our city. The council is understandably focused on keeping the people of Manchester safe and well, and we have been doing what we can to support the national effort, including offering all our venues as temporary hospitals or emergency shelters.”

The statement further read, “We are carefully reviewing the application documents that have been put forward alongside claims OVG has previously made around the impact to Greater Manchester’s transport, environment and economy. Existing independent analysis on market demand from Oxford Economics and Grant Thornton is clear; that two 20,000-capacity arenas in Manchester are not sustainable and will drive events and footfall to an out of town location, with devastating effects to the city centre economy and the region’s air quality.”

ASM Global’s statement added, “Where two arenas exist in the same city elsewhere, they are not both in excess of 21,000 capacities. In London, there is one venue at 20,000 and a smaller venue at 12,500, with a population three times the size of Manchester. In Birmingham, there are two significantly smaller venues than Manchester Arena, operated by the same company, with total ticket sales across the two venues being equal to that of Manchester Arena.

The statement concluded, “Taking Birmingham as the example, it is clear that adding a second arena at 20,000 capacities will simply split the existing number of events between two locations. Moving 50 per cent of the city’s events to Eastlands will dramatically reduce the footfall to the city’s bars, restaurants and retail. We sincerely hope that despite being submitted at a time of national crisis when attention is understandably focused on life saving efforts, this application will still receive proper scrutiny. We would urge the council to carefully consider whether now is the time to approve plans that will further jeopardise our city center. We need to stand together to protect culture, entertainment and hospitality in the heart of Manchester.”

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