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Design & Development

OVG draws a line under delays as Co-op Live opens

Images: Sophie Traynor & Peter Neill – ShootTheSound

Images: Sophie Traynor & Peter Neill – ShootTheSound

Co-op Live has officially opened its doors, with Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of Oak View Group (OVG), stating that its price tag now stands at close to £450m (€523.4m/$566.9m) after the Manchester venue narrowly avoided a “catastrophic” incident earlier this month.

Following the delays and postponements that have blighted the 23,500-capacity arena, fittingly it was a local band that commenced proceedings yesterday (Tuesday) evening, with Elbow, who hail from the Greater Manchester town of Bury, playing in front of a crowd of around 12,000.

Co-op Live is a joint venture between OVG and City Football Group, the parent company of Manchester City. It forms part of Etihad Campus, which houses the Premier League football club’s Etihad Stadium.

As the arena prepared to stage its first major event, Leiweke was in bullish mood as OVG now seeks to deliver on its pledge of establishing a venue that can compete with the very best in the world, with the company claiming the Co-op Live project represents the largest single private investment in an arena made anywhere outside of North America.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I think people should stop kicking and start appreciating what we have here, and the impact it’s going to create for Manchester. People who want to kick it, kick it. But we’ve shut up, we’ve spent the past three weeks getting the building ready, and now we open up… and I think we will have long-term success.

“We have 120 events in our first year, 120 events already booked. We sold 70,000 tickets last week for Billie Eilish. I don’t hear anyone talking about that, it’s like ‘wait a minute, this building is a failure?’ We just sold 70,000 tickets for Billie Eilish, Travis Scott sold out in three minutes. Most of those shows wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Co-op Live.”

Leiweke added: “Will it drive the economy here? Yes. That’s what I’m focused on. Are we frustrated, sorry and apologetic for the last three weeks? Yes, but this building is going to last 30-40 years and it’s the most expensive building ever built outside of the United States and we built it privately.”

Co-op Live had been due to stage its first event in 2023, but last June the opening date was pushed back to April 2024. The project’s latest woes began last month as it was decided it would not open as scheduled on April 23 due to issues relating to the venue’s power supply. The announcement came after the arena issued an apology after it was forced to reduce capacity for a test event featuring Rick Astley at short notice.

Further event postponements were then confirmed as Rebecca Kane Burton was named interim executive director and general manager of Co-op Live.

On May 1, Co-op Live cancelled A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s show over safety concerns just minutes before the doors were due to open for its opening night. It was the venue’s third attempt at an official opening after shows featuring Peter Kay and The Black Keys were pulled.

The incident on May 1 came about during soundcheck when a component of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, used to direct air, separated from the ductwork. The gig was postponed as OVG was unable to verify that all similar nozzles were free of such defects.

Leiweke yesterday denied reports that officials were given warnings in February that the building wasn’t ready. He said: “That’s not true. The fact is, two weeks ago we were ready, and then the air filter happened.”

Leiweke said Co-op Live is now “the most checked venue in history” after the incident which he stated was isolated to one faulty valve. However, he admitted that if the valve had fallen off even 15 minutes later “something catastrophic could have happened”.

He continued: “It’s the most analysed, scrutinised, over-analysed, and double-engineered and checked bolts in the history of the construction industry and again it’s painful, it’s hard for us, it’s expensive for us.

“So am I sorry about the extra two weeks? Yes, very, very apologetic. I know we altered lives and confused schedules but there was no way that we were going to open without looking at every nut and bolt on those air shafts.”

The Co-operative Group, the arena’s naming rights holder, has also expressed its concern over the situation surrounding Co-op Live. However, following a period that has seen a number of its concerts relocated to AO Arena, operated by arch-rival ASM Global, Leiweke is confident Co-op Live can now look forward, albeit with further refinements still to be made.

He told the BBC: “This building will evolve over a period of time. My guess is for the next six months, we’ll have guys coming in here and working on that punch list.”