Arena Island boss answers mayor's criticisms of the plan for a city centre venue

August 24 2018
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Bosses behind bid for city centre arena make Freedom of Information demands to council before vital meeting to decide venue's fate

An image of the Temple Meads arena prepared in 2015 

BACKERS OF COUNCIL’S ‘IN HOUSE’ ARENA MAKE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION DEMAND OVER YTL

John Sharkey is executive vice president at SMG Europe, which, along with another US firm, Live Nation, has formed a Bristol venture, Arena Island Ltd (AIL). It's AIL which is supposedly the council'a partner in building a 12,000-13,000 capacity entertainment venue next to Temple Meads station. It would cost £122m to build (the mayor says £135m including associated costs), reduced from a reputed £190m when the council was working with a previous contractor.

The full council and the council's scrutiny board will discuss the issue on September 3, before a cabinet meeting on September 4 makes a decision on the future of Arena Island – or Temple Island, whichever you choose to call it.

For the past year, mayor Marvin Rees has been saying there may be disadvantages to the arena plan, and the city may get more jobs and income if it uses the island site for something else.

The Voice spoke to Mr Sharkey to hear his responses to Mr Rees.

Mr Sharkey confirmed that SMG has made a Freedom of Information request for full details of contacts between the mayor, council officials and YTL, the Malaysian firm which wants to build a larger, 16,000 capacity arena at Filton airport in the old Brabazon hangars. We print AIL's request under FOI below. 

Mr Sharkey took issue with Mr Rees’s objections to the AIL plan.

THE MAN leading the business plan for what was the council’s in-house operation for an arena at Temple Meads says his firm has made a demand under Freedom of Information rules to uncover the contacts between the council and would-be Filton arena builder, YTL

John Sharkey is executive vice president at SMG Europe, which with another US firm, Live Nation, has formed a Bristol joint venture, Arena Island Ltd (AIL).

He told the Voice that he cannot see a weakness in the arguments for a city centre arena – and he can’t understand why Marvin Rees is backing away from it.

SMG has asked for full details of contacts between the mayor, council officials and YTL. (Details, and longer version of Mr Sharkey’s comments, are on the Voice website).

Mr Sharkey took issue with each of Mr Rees’s objections to a Temple Meads venue.

 

SIZE Mr Rees says arenas need to be bigger than 12,000 nowadays. Mr Sharkey says 12,000 is the perfect size for a city as big as Bristol – any bigger would risk empty seats.

Mr Sharkey said: “The only arenas above 16,000 capacity in the UK are Birmingham, Manchester and London. Birmingham and Manchester have urban populations of about three million, Bristol has 1.1m. If you are going to put an arena with the capacity for those bigger cities in a city with a population a third of the size, do’t be surprised when you don’t see many people buying tickets.

“The Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow has 12,000 seats plus 1,000 standing. Bristol we think is going to be 10,500 seats, up to 13,000 with standing, so about the same. The Glasgow arena, because it’s the right size for the city, has turned into being the one of the top five venues in the country because artists enjoy going there, they play to full halls and people want to come back  because the venue is in the right place [in the city centre].

“The last three arenas built have been Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow, and all three have been built in the centre and that’s no surprise.

 

COST Mr Rees says the council would have to borrow money. Mr Sharkey says it would be repaid from rental fees – Bristol taxpayers won’t pay.

“The project is financially viable. The contract has been changed, we have come back to help with an improved offer. [AIL is offering extra capital, extra rent, and an increased 10 years on the lease for the arena].

“The borrowing will be repaid by the rent and the loan will be from the Public Works Lending Board and the Local Enterprise Partnership.

“The Bristol taxpayer isn’t going to repay that debt.

“Plus the city gets the dividend of the economic benefit. The arena doesn’t capture all the revenues – visitors are going to spend their money in pubs, clubs and restaurants in the area.

“The city captures some of that too in extra council tax, business rates and other social impacts.

“The mayor seems to be having a problem with the council funding this kind of project.”

 

CITY BENEFITS Mr Rees says more jobs and revenue will come from an alternative use. Mr Sharkey says arena-goers will spend money in shops, bars and restaurants, helping the troubled retail sector.

“Yes, people buy tickets to come and see shows but they also spend money in the area around the city centre. It’s going to help the retail sector that needs support.”

 

PARKING & TRANSPORT Mr Rees says 3,500 cars would come to each sell-out gig. Mr Sharkey says, based on experience at other city arenas next to a transport hub, it would be no more than 2,400.

“Building it next to a big transport hub means people don’t have the bother of using the car.

“SMG operates arenas in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Aberdeen. Manchester is right next to the railway station. Sixty per cent of visitors use public transport.

“In Bristol, that means 40 per cent of a 12,000 audience would come by car, but you get an average of two-plus people per car – very rarely do you come to a gig on your own. So 2,000-plus cars. [Their arrival] would take 2-3 hours because some people want to go for meals and so on first.

“And at the end of he evening the bottleneck of extra traffic is going  to be at the time of night, 11- 11.30pm, when you don’t have any congestion on the roads anyway.

“Should you not try to build an arena next to a transport hub? You have all the connecting routes to all parts of the city.

“It’s sensible to have a proportion of parking near to the arena. it means that you do cater for all uses, there will be some people who will come with their cars. There’s accessible parking too.

“There were plans to put a car park across a connecting bridge, it doesn’t has to be near the door to the arena.”

 

THE ALTERNATIVE USES FOR ARENA ISLAND

Mr Sharkey was speaking before Legal & General published its proposal for a 10-storey redevelopment of the island site – though without stating economic benefits or job numbers.

Mr Sharkey said that AIL has asked under FOI to be told the criteria for the mayor to make his decision. (It has also asked about contacts between the council and YTL, see below). 

“We have asked entirely legitimate and valid questions. If the mayor is [going to] arrive at a decision, what criteria he is going to base that decision on?

“We have also questioned the KMPG report on the alternative use because the mayor has quoted that report; he thinks there’s a better economic alternative than the arena.

“Most of the alternative uses that have been put forward, and most of the employment numbers, have been provided by city council officers without any corroboration.

“I’m not saying that they are wrong. But they are somebody’s idea in the council, and not with independent verification.

“The KMPG report is littered with estimates and uncertainties – and at the back on the very last page they come to conclusion that the arena might be a better alternative.

 

CHALLENGING THE MAYOR’S DECISION

Mr Sharkey would not be drawn on whether AIL would go to court if its plan is thwarted.

“The decision-making process and whether it’s open to change is a matter for the council and the mayor and the elected officers.

“The councillors are calling an extraordinary meeting, I won’t comment on that, I don’t think that’s our place to comment.

“I still believe that  for all the right reasons that the correct decision is to have the arena in middle of the city. We are spending our time trying to make sure that happens, not working out what happens if it goes the other way.”

 

TRYING TO TALK TO THE MAYOR

“We met him in March 2017. From December on we have tried to get a meeting with him or to speak to him by phone. He did offer his assistant because he said he was too busy to meet. I had a call with his assistant [and said] that I didn’t really wish to speak with his assistant because the mayor has said that he’s making the decision. But we haven’t had an opportunity to speak with him at all.” 

 

A THIRD ARENA SITE?

ALL parties are staying tight-lipped on a claim that Bristol Fruit Market in St Philip’s could be a bigger, better site for an arena. The Voice understands that it has been considered for use for arena parking in the past. The council has received an FOI request seeking disclosure of any plans it has for a venue on the fruit market site. Managers of the market have told Bristol Live they have no knowledge of any plans. 

 

Request for Information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Please provide the following information held by or on behalf of Bristol City Council:

Meeting on 12 July 2018 
1. In relation to the meeting between Mayor Rees and YTL, please confirm: 
(a) the location of that meeting; 
(b) the identity of all persons in attendance at that meeting; 
(c) whether the meeting concerned Bristol City Council matters or was personal; 
(d) If the meeting concerned Bristol City Council matters, please provide details of the subject matter of those discussions and a copy of any agenda or notes of the meeting; 
(e) who met the costs associated with that meeting, including (without limitation) the following, and a breakdown of the individual costs of those expenses: 
(i) food and drinks; 
(ii) accommodation; 
(iii) travel; 
(iv) entertainment; and 
(v) other – please specify

Arena consultant 
2. It is apparent from the Council’s recent response to a FOI request submitted by Mr Frank Church on 24 May 2018 entitled ‘Bristol Arena project – meetings and e mails with YLT (sic) Corporation’ that the Council has appointed someone with the title ‘Arena consultant’. This person is based at the Executive Office, 2nd Floor, Park Side, City Hall, Bristol, and has an e mail address ending @bristol.gov.uk. In relation to the Arena consultant, please confirm: 
(a) the identity of the Arena consultant; 
(b) the date on which they were appointed; 
(c) who (i) recommended that person be appointed and (ii) authorised that appointment; 
(d) whether the role was advertised, and if so, where, when and for how long; 
(e) the number of applicants for the role; 
(f) what relevant skills and experience the chosen person has to perform the role of Arena consultant; 
(g) whether the Arena consultant is an employee or contractor for the Council and the length of that person’s contract (either of employment or services); 
(h) which legal entity (or entities if more than one) is meeting the costs and expenses of the Arena consultant; 
(i) whether YTL or any of its group companies has offered to, or has, contributed in any way to the (i) recruitment process and/or (ii) costs and expenses in relation to the Arena consultant; 
(j) whether the Arena consultant had any connection to any of the following parties prior to his or her appointment: 
(i) Mayor Rees; 
(ii) Colin Molton; 
(iii) YTL or any group companies; 
(iv) Colin Skellett; 
(v) KPMG 
If so, please describe the nature of that connection, including whether it was personal or professional and whether the Council considered the prior relationship between the parties might create any conflict of interest in relation to the Arena consultant’s appointment.

I look forward to receiving your response within 20 working days.

Yours faithfully,

FREYJA HANDY 
Legal Counsel, SMG Europe 
For and on behalf of Arena Island Limited