OVG reveals Manchester arena team, ASM Global calls for ‘proper scrutiny’

Oak View Group (OVG) has today (Thursday) appointed the Royal BAM Group (BAM) as its preferred construction partner and Populous as the principal architect and designer of its planned new arena in Manchester, while ASM Global, operator of the Manchester Arena, has called for the plans to receive “proper scrutiny” from the city council.

Yesterday, plans for the proposed new arena, which has a maximum capacity of 23,500, were published and more details of the team tasked with delivering the project have now been revealed. BAM has previously worked on projects in the North West of England, having built the City Football Academy, part of the Etihad Campus in which the new arena will sit, along with the National Graphene Institute and the Co-Operative Group HQ.

Populous, which counts the recently-opened Tottenham Hotspur Stadium among its high-profile projects, has been appointed as the principal architect and designer of OVG’s new arena. OVG said that Populous has helped it place “inclusivity, safety and sustainability” at the heart of its plans.

BAM and Populous will be joined in the project team by BuroHappold, ME Engineers, Vanguardia, Turner & Townsend and Deloitte.

OVG co-founder and chief executive Tim Leiweke said: “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.”

The timing of OVG’s submission of the plans has been questioned by ASM Global, which operates the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena. ASM Global, which has been fiercely opposed to OVG’s plans, has expressed concerns over whether Manchester can sustain two arenas with 20,000-plus capacities.

Manchester Arena is located near the city centre 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 centre.

In a statement provided to TheStadiumBusiness.com, ASM Global said: “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.

“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.”

Manchester Arena, which OVG said operated at under 15,000-capacity for 90 per cent of events from 2014 to 2018, last month unveiled a vision 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.

ASM Global’s statement added: “Where two arenas exist in the same city elsewhere, they are not both in excess of 21,000 capacity. 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.

“Taking Birmingham as the example, it is clear that adding a second arena at 20,000 capacity 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 centre. We need to stand together to protect culture, entertainment and hospitality in the heart of Manchester.”

Subject to successful planning approval, it is envisaged that OVG’s arena would take three years to build, with the first events planned to be held in 2023. The project marks OVG’s first outside of its US homeland and the largest privately financed venue in the UK, with £350m (€399m/$433m) direct investment going into the city.