Leeds Arena operator promises UK first

LEEDS’ new £80m arena will be the most advanced design of its type in the UK offering a “super-theatre” for an audience of 12,500 with the operator promising to deliver shows from world renowned rock and pop stars along with world class boxing, wrestling and tennis matches.

The latest phase of the development of the Leeds Arena project was unveiled at international property conference MIPIM with Leeds City Council and operator SMG keen to dispel any doubts that the venue will be built on time and within budget.

The European arm of US group SMG will operate the arena – it already manages the MEN Arena in Manchester, the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, the Odyssey Arena in Belfast as well as arenas in Norway and Germany.

SMG Europe managing director John Sutherland said that the Leeds Arena will be more advanced than any other similar venue in the UK because it is being purpose built rather than being converted from an existing sporting venue.

“The shape and design of it is going to be focused on entertainments. Manchester and Sheffield arenas were both designed for sport. So this will be what we call a ‘super-theatre’ with a fan shape but unlike a theatre with 2,000 seats this is going to have 12,500 seats.

“The key is the shape, you will be much closer to the artists even in the seats at the back. It will create an intimate atmosphere for 12,500 people.”

Mr Sutherland said that the Leeds Arena was likely to have 24 corporate boxes as well as restaurants and bars and food and drink concessions.

“The corporate climate is not great but the time will come. The timing of Leeds Arena is perfect – we’re looking at an opening in the third quarter of 2012 and we are looking at attracting a major star for the opening – or a major sports event.”

Mr Sutherland said he was aware of controversy over the arena site – former Marketing Leeds chairman Jan Fletcher is taking court action over the council’s decision to ignore two private sector proposals in favour of forging ahead to develop the arena itself on land it owns on Claypit Lane near the inner ring road to the north of the city centre.

“It’s absolutely perfect, I have heard about the controversy and I am surprised. I can’t fault the council. I have absolutely no doubts that they are going to deliver something on time.”

Mr Sutherland pledged to bring top stars to the arena along with an array of other entertainment and sport.

“If it was open today you would be seeing Bruce Springsteen, Kylie Minogue and then of course the local Kaiser Chiefs. There will also be international boxing, wrestling, masters tennis, netball, darts – which is popular in arenas – and basketball, we will bring over the Harlem Globetrotters.”

Mr Sutherland said that the arena would be able to be converted to allow smaller events such as the musicals Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, to play to an audience of 1,500.

Jean Dent, director of development at Leeds City Council, said: “The arena and its proposed city centre location places it at the forefront of our vision for the future development of the city centre as a major driver for the city and the city region, and will position Leeds as an internationally competitive European city.

Ms Dent said a specialist international architecture practice will be appointed within the next few weeks and the venue would go for outline planning permission in September with work expected to start on site next year.

Contractors will be invited to submit bids to build the arena later this year and Ms Dent said that given the current economic climate, the council is expecting some “very competitive bids” from contractors with international experience in this field.