THE DECADES-long on-off process behind Bristol getting an arena took another radical turn as LIVE UK went to press.
A week earlier, the city’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees announced his decision to scrap well-advanced plans to build a council-funded, 12,000-seat facility on Arena Island in the city centre, in favour of a 15,000 capacity venue in Filton, to the north of the city, funded and built by Malaysian firm YTL.
The Arena Island project would have cost the city £122m, but the YTL option required the council to provide £100m of infrastructure, so the overall saving is £22m.
Then it was revealed that promoter Harvey Goldsmith, local developer Stephen Fear and what LIVE UK has been told is a Los Angeles-based global venue management company, was making an 11th hour bid to takeover the project and use the Arena Island site.
The Mayor’s decision was taken despite appeals by the majority of city councillors and submissions by local live music professionals, so the Goldsmith-Fear proposal is likely to have supporters.
Scrapping the city centre scheme also meant SMG Europe and Live Nation Entertainment lost their joint management deal for the city centre venue (see LIVE UK news, issues 217 and 222). No management deal has been announced for the YTL option.
“Jobs and affordable homes are the key priorities for my administration,” says Rees. “By not borrowing the huge sums needed to build the [city centre] arena, we will release capital for other exciting city projects.”
Rees said several prominent individuals support his decision to scrap the central arena in favour of housing, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
SMG Europe executive vice-president of operations John Sharkey says, “The proposed arena would have had a transformative effect on the [city centre] Temple Quarter, turning it into a vibrant and exciting location, and would have provided an anchor to other developments in the area, attracting tourists and a new cultural economy.
“We have invested a significant amount of time, money and resources into the project to try to make it a success and still firmly believe that building an arena on Arena Island is the best use of that land.”
However, Goldsmith and Fear believe the Arena Island concept may not yet be dead. “The Mayor’s decision is hugely disappointing – arenas need to be in city centres,” Fear tells LIVE UK.
While unable to discuss details, he says Goldsmith had drawn up plans involving “serious American investors” who are “leading global experts in the field of both arena development and operation”.
“We wanted the Mayor to delay his decision until we had had a chance to present him with our proposal,” he says. “When I heard that a decision was imminent, Harvey and I wrote an open letter to the Bristol Post [newspaper] explaining that our plan would de-risk Bristol’s financial commitment.
“The city has already spent £12m on Arena Island and to change courses for a new Filton development is silly.”
Fear reveals that a delegation from the US firm was travelling to Bristol, but had been told they could only meet city officials, as the Mayor is unavailable.
Crosstown Concerts co-founder Conal Dodds, based in Bristol, says of Rees’s decision, “If the city centre option is dead, it’s a missed opportunity. The region is crying out for shows of that size and Arena Island gets my vote and that of most promoters.”
Shortly after Mayor Rees’s decision the Bristol Post reported on a leaked council document which highlighted the possible risk that Arena Island Ltd, the partnership behind the original central Bristol project, could win millions in compensation if it mounted a successful legal challenge, following the abandonment of their project.
Apart from being a promoting legend, Goldsmith has experience in arena development, as he co-founded London Arena (cap. 15,000) in 1989 with boxing promoter Frank Warren. Although fairly basic in construction, the venue hosted six nights with Pink Floyd, five with Frank Sinatra, two with S Club 7, along with shows by Duran Duran, Janet Jackson and Slipknot.