Manchester Arena unveils 24,000-capacity expansion

The entertainment venue plans to increase its capacity as part of a redevelopment, making it Europe’s largest indoor arena and leapfrogging proposals from Oak View Group for a 23,500-capacity rival venue in Eastlands.

Manchester Arena, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, holds 21,000 people at present but a proposed increase in standing capacity could make room for an extra 3,000, according to its operator ASM Global.

The plans unveiled this week would also see the creation of additional concourse levels to improve circulation and a dedicated level for VIP boxes and lounges, as well as new food and drink outlets on the event floor. A worker bee façade and an external redesign of the space around the arena to improve the people flow between the venue and Manchester Victoria station are also mooted.

Initial designs have been drawn up by US-based architect HOK, which has designed similar projects including the 70,000-capacity Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

OVG Arena Outside Shot

Oak View Group’s proposed 23,500 capacity venue in Eastlands

A statement from ASM Global said the plans “represent a significant investment into the iconic venue and have been created to ensure the arena remains at the heart of the city for the next 25 years and beyond.”

John Sharkey, executive vice-president for European operations for ASM Global, said: “These plans have been made public earlier than intended, as we are still in the process of consulting with Manchester City Council, our neighbours and our landlord on the design – their input and involvement in this journey will be crucial.

“In particular, we’re working to ensure our final proposals fit with the council’s wider infrastructure planning. We are also in dialogue with the families of the May 2017 terrorist attack around [the inclusion of] a fitting memorial for the City Room.”

A study by advisory firm Grant Thornton revealed that visitors to Manchester Arena spent an estimated £114m in Manchester city centre in 2018. Sharkey believes that Oak View’s proposals for an additional arena, in Eastlands, could therefore be damaging for the city centre economy. A planning application for that scheme is due to be submitted this month.

Speaking in June 2019 after Oak View’s plans came to light, Sharkey said: “[The Grant Thornton report said that] 80% of gig attendees spend money in the city centre, and half of those reported that if the venue was outside the city, they wouldn’t come in.

“Only one venue will survive, and if it’s not ours then the city will lose 1.2 million people coming through it, and could turn to tumbleweed. The plans are absolutely crazy, not at all strategic, and are purely opportunistic without any market context.”

However, Oak View’s Mark Donnelly refuted those claims at a public consultation event for the Eastlands arena this month, and said the firm was “confident the market can take two arenas”.

Place North West revealed in January that ASM Global was in advanced talks with AO over sponsorship of the arena.

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