Firms wade in over ‘flawed’ £350m Eastlands arena

Manchester Arena operator ASM Global has submitted objections to the city council against Oak View Group’s plans to build a rival, 23,500-capacity arena, with local companies, including the Arndale and leisure firm Living Ventures Group, backing its claims.

Other companies that have objected to the scheme include asset managers Aviva Investors and DTZ Investors. The latter is the landlord for the Printworks in Manchester and a swathe of King Street, alongside Living Ventures, which owns bars and restaurants including Australasia and Grand Pacific.

The deadline to submit objections over Oak View’s plans for consideration by Manchester City Council, was yesterday. The developer plans to build a second entertainment arena in Manchester, in the Eastlands area of the city near the Etihad Stadium. 

OVG has said previously it hopes the arena would “support the growth of East Manchester as a thriving community and world-leading sporting and leisure destination”.

Meanwhile, ASM Global, which unveiled its own plans to redevelop the Manchester Arena in March and increase the facility’s capacity to 24,000, claims that the introduction of a second arena to Manchester would drive events and footfall to an out-of-town location, with a negative impact on the city centre economy. 

However, OVG’s chief operating officer, Mark Donnelly, who is leading the Populous-designed project, has consistently maintained that there is demand for a second arena in Manchester. 

“Our view is that Manchester is a growing market, whether that is development, hotels, international tourism or general population,” Donnelly said. 

OVG, whose arena would open in 2023 if it wins planning approval, believes Manchester can support two large arenas and said that £350m of private investment for the city post Covid-19 would be welcomed.

Printworks 1

DTZ Investors, which owns Printworks, is among the objectors

As part of its objections submission, ASM Global appointed consultancy Charles River Associates to conduct research into OVG’s market assessment. The Charles River study found “significant flaws in the evidence supporting the planning application” according to the arena operator. 

ASM Global added that OVG’s application “relied on evidence that failed to consider the full picture in Manchester”. 

Objectors have voiced their concerns over the project’s impact on city centre trade “at a challenging time for many businesses”, but Donnelly, citing the findings of OVG’s own economic and market assessment study carried out by consultancies Ekosgen and PWC, remained stoic.

He said: “From every study you can see, all the evidence points to the live entertainment market continuing to grow. There are various different data sources which suggest that live entertainment grows anywhere from 2% and 6% a year on average.” 

He added that Manchester Arena had lost market share in recent years due to growth in the UK arena market, and said several venues across the UK were looking to expand, which signalled confidence within the sector. 

Donnelly said: “Economic analysis submitted as part of our application shows that a new arena would bring an additional £36m per year in direct annual local spending and at least £1.3bn of additional economic activity from two arenas over 20 years. City centre business would account for 85% of visitor expenditure from two arenas.

“A new venue, with world-leading technology, would help to grow the overall entertainment market within Manchester and attract a wider range of larger and more impressive live events to the city.

Manchester Arena Redevelopment Bird's Eye View

Architect HOK has designed ASM’s arena revamp

A statement from ASM Global said: “We have clear reasons for opposing a new arena in Eastlands, and have never shied away from making our voice heard.

“We firmly believe that this planning application presents a very real threat to not only our venue and transformative redevelopment plans, but to our neighbouring hotels, bars, restaurants and stores, at what is an already fragile time. 

“Independent analysis clearly demonstrates there is no demand for a second major venue in Manchester. To introduce another would risk running the other out of business, taking with it the visitors and spend that it positively contributes to surrounding businesses.”  

Andrew Coles, director of real assets at Aviva Investors, supporting ASM’s argument, said: “The basis of the Eastlands Arena application was written before the full scale of the economic impact on Manchester was understood.  

“We would urge the relevant authorities to carefully consider how to ensure the vitality and viability of the city centre, which reflects the economic reality on the ground. As such, we believe a full retail and leisure impact assessment of a scheme of this size is needed.”  

Jeremy Roberts, co-founder of Living Ventures, added: “Support for the city centre has never been more important as we recover from Covid-19, and Manchester City Council needs to support the considerable investment that has already been made to the city centre brand and identity. 

“Now is not the time to destabilise our city centre economy.” 

A decision on the application is expected in July and, if approved, OVG says construction could start in October.

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