Countdown to Leeds Arena opening begins as council hands over keys

To see Leeds City Council leader Cllr Keith Wakefield talk about what Leeds Arena means to the city, click here: Leeds City Council leader talks about Leeds Arena

On time, on budget and on course to be the best new entertainment venue in the world this year- Leeds Arena is already an incredible success story before it even opens.

As Leeds City Council hands over its landmark project to be run by operators SMG Europe it is the culmination of years of dedicated planning, execution and an imaginative approach to ensuring it fits into the city’s infrastructure.

The £60m arena is bringing with it a raft of jobs, international events and an expected big boost to the Leeds economy. Already it is being hailed as the most exciting new venue this year globally by influential US magazine Billboard.

It placed the 13,500-capacity arena top of a list of 17 new or renovated venues to watch, ahead of the new Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York, recently opened by local superstar Jay-Z closely followed by Barbra Streisand.

It is a major milestone in the hugely-ambitious local authority project to provide one of the biggest cities in the UK with an arena to match its ambition.

Leeds City Council leader Councillor Keith Wakefield said:

“We want Leeds to be the best city in the UK and delivering this hugely-imaginative and highly-ambitious project on time and on budget in an incredibly-challenging economy demonstrates without doubt that we mean business.

“Our arena project is a superb example of the pivotal role a local authority can play in enabling a city’s transformation. It is bringing jobs, investment and visitors to our city and I cannot speak highly enough of the dedication, flair and sheer hard work that have been the hallmark of the Leeds Arena scheme, from inception right through to completion.

“Thanks to this commitment and professionalism from the council, its officers, construction contractor BAM, SMG Europe and our partners across the city and beyond Leeds will have the world-class venue it deserves. I would like to wish SMG the very best of luck as they set to work in getting it on the map.”

John Sutherland, Managing Director at SMG Europe said:

“It’s been a great pleasure to work so closely with Leeds City Council on a development of such scope and importance to the city, the region and, to an extent, the UK.

“Our team, who have already been heavily involved in the project’s cultivation to date, are incredibly committed to responsibly leading Leeds Arena into its launch, its opening season and beyond, whilst continuing to deliver the high quality entertainment experience that its audience deserves.”

It has been a long-held desire for Leeds to have its own arena and Leeds City Council took on the role of developer in 2008 after private sector proposals were found to be not good value for money.

The council has made huge efforts to ensure optimum success of the showpiece arena while maximising its benefits to the city. It has planned infrastructure, jobs creation and ongoing development of what has become known as the Arena Quarter.

Council-owned Woodhouse Lane car park has recently had a multi-million-pound refurbishment to make it ready to be one of the official arena event car parks. Surrounding roads have also been improved and Lovell Park Bridge- one of the key routes to and from the arena- has recently re-opened after strengthening work.

The arena has been the catalyst for further development activity in the Northern Quarter of the city centre. Town Centre Securities, the owners of the Merrion Centre, are refurbishing the section over-looking the venue as a destination for drinks and dining before and after events. A five-star hotel is also in the pipeline on nearby Portland Crescent, while a Premier Inn hotel has opened immediately opposite the arena.

But by far the biggest benefit is the employment boost brought to Leeds- through construction jobs, event staffing and the new investment that will inevitably be attracted to the city as companies see Leeds as a place in which to invest.

On the construction front alone at least 200 jobs have been created or safeguarded for Leeds residents and 90 apprentices have worked on building the arena.

Many construction workers gained extra skills in areas such as health and safety and NVQ qualifications as part of the associated workforce development programme. University research projects also benefited, while the schools engagement programme saw many site visits, work experience and workshops.

No less than 82 Leeds businesses worked directly on the project, along with a further 70 from the region and 19 from further afield. A number of business events have also been hosted to encourage further associated links and investment.

Meanwhile, as the focus shifts towards the summer opening of the venue the council is handing over the reins to SMG Europe. They will run Leeds Arena and will be responsible for all operational matters, with the council acting as landlord.

They will spend the next few months fitting out the eye-catching super-theatre style venue to their requirements in time for the first Leeds Arena show by Bruce Springsteen on July 24. This will be followed by an opening showcase fortnight spearheaded by Elton John on September 4 and featuring classical superstar Andrea Bocelli, comedian Micky Flanagan and local heroes Kaiser Chiefs.

Notes to editors

Construction company BAM is part of Royal BAM Group. Royal BAM has a strong pedigree in large prestige buildings and is a key contractor behind two of the stadiums in the 2010 FIFA World Cup – including Soccer City, home to the final. They also led on a £9.2m refurbishment of the Leeds City Varieties theatre and previously constructed the award-winning Leeds Metropolitan University building, the Rose Bowl.

SMG Europe is the largest operator of sports and entertainment venues in Europe, such as the Manchester Evening News Arena and the city’s Bridgewater Hall, the Odyssey Arena in Belfast and Oslo Spektrum.

Photo 1: Cllr Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council

Photo 2: John Sutherland, MD SMG Europe, , with Cllr Keith

For media enquiries please contact:

Donna Cox, Communications Manager, Press & Media Relations

Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3335

e-mail: donna.cox@leeds.gov.uk