The £365m arena is due to open in December 2023. Credit: via Blakeney Group

Co-op Live developer bullish despite rival arena plans  

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of Oak View Group, said he is unconcerned about a £50m project to upgrade and expand the AO Arena in Manchester city centre, claiming his 23,500-capacity project in Eastlands will be one of the top five music venues in the world. 

What competition? 

Construction of the £365m Co-op Live Arena is on course to complete on time and within budget, with the first gigs to be announced in autumn, Leiweke told press at a briefing in Manchester on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, AO Arena operator ASM Global is planning to modernise its 27-year-old venue. 

Leiweke is not giving his rivals’ plans much thought. 

“I don’t really lose much sleep over them. If I were them I might lose sleep over us,” he said. 

As Oak View Group’s arena progressed through planning, ASM Global was vociferous in its view that demand did not exist in the city for two large arenas. 

Manchester City Council’s planning committee disagreed, approving the project unanimously in 2020. 

Two years on and main contractor BAM is halfway through the project, which is due to complete in December 2023.  

ASM’s proposed overhaul, first mooted in March 2020, has struggled to get out of the starting blocks after some external elements of the project were knocked back by city planners on heritage grounds. 

Plans to revamp the AO Arena were first proposed in 2020. Credit: via ASM Global

Earlier this year, ASM reiterated its intention to upgrade the AO Arena, putting forward revised proposals for an interior overhaul. 

While he does not wish his rivals any ill will, Leiweke seemed unimpressed when asked by Place North West about ASM’s proposals. 

“At the end of the day, they say a lot of things,” he said. 

“They announced their renovation two years ago and then they didn’t do it. We announced our construction project two years ago and we’re halfway done.” 

ASM is due to start its modernisation project this summer but Leiweke is certain that his Eastlands project will be far superior to what can be delivered at the 27-year-old AO Arena. 

“I am absolutely convinced this arena will be one of the top five arenas in the world for music. Would I want to compete with that? Hell no.” 

Co-op live plans to host 120 events in its first year and 80% of these will be music-focussed. The sales process for its 28 premium suites has now begun, with companies able to place deposits to secure a hospitality box.

Manchester’s property community is seemingly keen to get involved. Bruntwood and Vita Group have expressed an interest in the suites, according to Oak View Group.

As well as hosting concerts, Co-op Live will boast 32 bars and restaurants as well as 12 lounges and club spaces.

Travel tribulations  

Oak View Group has high hopes for its arena from a sustainability standpoint; the venue will be all-electric, and feature a 100,000 sq ft solar array on the roof as it bids to be net zero carbon by 2038.

In addition, the developer –  along with partners City Football Group and popstar Harry Styles – is keen to encourage gig-goers to walk to the venue, rather than drive.

However, Leiweke is realistic and understands that it will be difficult to convince people to make the 30-minute journey from Manchester Piccadilly on foot. 

The transport challenge is one that Oak View Group must overcome if it is to achieve its goal of creating a net zero carbon arena and Leiweke expects finding solutions to the issue will dominate the next 18 months. 

“We’re all addicted to our automobiles. We have to work aggressively on trying to limit the number of cars that come to the venue,” he said. 

Co-op Live will have a 7,500 standing capacity. Credit: via Blakeney Group

One way OVG plans to do this is by improving walking routes from the city centre arena, especially canal towpaths. Electric shuttle buses were mentioned in a recent meeting with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Leiweke also recognises the importance of the tram network. 

“We are committed to the environment,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to make this the most sustainable arena ever built in Europe and that means we’re going to have to work on transportation.” 

Relationships with partners 

Co-op Live is the latest phase of the regeneration of Eastlands, which has been driven by City Football Group since the company’s founder Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan took over the football club in 2008. 

Amnesty International has raised concerns about alleged human rights abuses in the UAE, where Mansour is a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and deputy prime minister.

When asked if Oak View Group’s relationship with City Football Group could undermine the aim to create a diverse and inclusive venue, Leiweke said he had “no qualms” with his partners. 

“City Football Group is phenomenal. Honestly, they are the best partner we have ever had,” Leiweke said. 

“They have been as aggressive as we are on our social community and environmental push. And I’ve seen zero issues from my standpoint on the culture or the character of my partners.” 

Your Comments

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There isn’t room for both

By Cal

ASM have taken advantage of Manchester and its lack of competition in the arena market for years. Failure to invest in the MEN arena has now come back to bite them, Its great for Manchester and i hope ASM do something radical giving Manchester two great venues.

By MrWhite

Good on him, it is very welcome investment. ASM global were happy not to invest in AO which has been in need of modernization for years, as there was no competition, now there is they are up in arms. They can have no complaints. You cannot sit on your hands for long in a global city like Manchester.

By Bob

It’s all about competition.

By Darren Born and Bred.

If there’s room for Parklife, Alicia Keys, Ed Sheeran and The Killers in the city all on the SAME DAY, then there is room for two arenas.

By Dave

Can someone explain how thousands of people coming into the city for concert at this new venue way outside city centre will realistically be able access public transportation and then trains or trams to leave concerts that finish at 10 or 11 pm at night especially if Manchester City are playing on the same night and the match goes to extra time?.Those using the arena at Victoria station in contrast have train and multiple tram lines immediately outside and so won’t face being stuck in the city.

By Anonymous

Competition can surely only be good for the consumer and will go a considerable way to help repairing the night time economy damaged by covid. Having 2 significant music venues will improve tourism into Manchester this seems to be a win-win situation for mancs

By Mycomment

How about a Monorail from Manchester to the venue . That would be a tourist feature in itself . The other option is to develop the canal in order to sustain heavy traffic both ways . This will also re invigorate the canal .

By Ian Roberts

There’s a distinct lack of hospitality and hotels around Eastlands. Events there will be direct travel to and from, which undoubtedly will fuel car use. At least city centre venues by their nature discourage car use and encourage local hospitality and hotel custom. Any negative impact on the AO arena likely to hurt local businesses. Whereas there literally isn’t any local businesses to benefit in the areas around Co-Op.

By AR86

Competition for the AO will be good, but Co-op live will have to significantly improve it’s public transport accessibility as those trams will be a nightmare. Especially if Man City are at home the same day as a gig

By Disgruntled Goat

Amy improvement in tram or train links to the arena should be entirely paid for by the arena owners and Manchester council.It would be scandalous if money was diverted from tram plans in other parts of Greater Manchester to this new arena when they have deliberately built this environmentally unfriendly arena without adequate transport connections.

By Anonymous

‘Co op Live’ sounds really pathetic, it’s location is awful too, as a city fan the long walk or journey from town to east Manchester is pretty grim and dangerous, and for people coming from out of town and using the trains from York, Leeds and Liverpool the Arena at Victoria will be the winner and so it should be !!

By Drew Steele

Is there any way that the Ashburys station can be utilised and those free buses from there to the arena. I don’t like the name either.

By Elephant

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