Manchester Evening News

‘COMPETITIO­N IS GOOD’

JENNA CAMPBELL HEARS WHY ARENA BOSSES DON’T FEAR THE OPENING OF CO-OP LIVE

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THE AO Arena marked a significan­t date in its history this week - the topping out of its £50m redevelopm­ent. To mark the occasion, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham was in attendance, making a speech to attendees and ushering in a ‘new era’ of the venue.

“For so many reasons, it will always be at the heart of the Greater Manchester story,” he reflected. “But it is going into a new era with this major redevelopm­ent.”

He was joined by Mercury Prize and Brit Award nominees Blossoms who, along with the mayor, placed their hands in cement on the concourse - leaving their handprints in perpetuity in the fabric of the venue.

The final product - including a new VIP entrance, revamped food and drink offer and a membersonl­y restaurant and bar area - will be fully unveiled in the coming weeks, but bosses say it will raise the bar for music and culture in the city.

With a capacity of 21,000, the AO Arena is currently the biggest indoor arena in the country but in April, Co-op Live, situated just two miles away next to the Etihad Stadium, will take the title with a maximum capacity of 23,500, while London’s 02 Arena will slip into third.

But bosses said they weren’t worried about the new music venue. “I think we’re really well prepared, we’re a power house,” said Chris Bray, executive vice president for Europe at ASM, the venue operator for the AO Arena. “It’s the music capital of the world and there’s enough content to be delivered in two arenas here.

“I’ve been around the city here for two years since moving into this role and seen nothing but growth in this city in that time and it’s an amazing, vibrant place.

“Competitio­n is good, it raises our game and it’s great for all of the fans who are coming through the doors as well, so we’re both really well placed for that.”

Opened in 1995, the AO Arena has hosted some of the biggest names in live entertainm­ent including U2, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pavarotti and the record-breaking residency by Bolton comedian Peter Kay.

As it enters its new phase, AO, the Bolton-based electrical goods retailer, also confirmed its extension of its naming rights into 2030, cementing its commitment to the venue’s future.

Due to be fully unveiled in around five weeks, the newly imagined AO Arena will feature a VIP entrance for premium guests, a members-only bar and restaurant, modernised arrival experience with improved wayfinding, a brand new lower concourse, as well as improved focus on customer safety measures.

For artists and crew, the AO has also undergone a complete back of house overhaul to further enhance the experience, including an artist green room, dressing rooms and crew facilities.

Also upping its game in terms of food and drink experience­s, AO Arena’s £50m redevelopm­ent of its facilities and guest experience­s means a completely revamped offer with an exciting menu which includes handcrafte­d burgers, salt and pepper chicken and accompanyi­ng vegan options, including smash meat free burgers, to cater to pre-gig crowds.

Meanwhile, at The Mezz, a brand new world class premium bar and restaurant space, the AO have tapped up acclaimed chefs Simon Rogan MBE of three Michelin-starred L’Enclume and chef Tom Barnes of the soon-tolaunch Manchester restaurant Skof, who will oversee the introducti­on of quarterly seasonal dishes, menu curation, regular appearance­s from both chefs and access to produce from Simon Rogan’s farm ‘Our Farm,’ located under two hours from

Manchester.

Of the new culinary offer and guest experience, Chris added: “My background in contract catering I worked in places like Ascot racecourse and have worked in lots of stadiums around the world and we really wanted to raise the standard of catering in the arena space.

“We’ve got Tom and Simon who will be doing some signature dishes and a signature dish from our chef, too, who we’re not unveiling yet, but it will be amazing.

“There will be fine dining in the restaurant, unfussy food specific to the type of show and in the bar it will be a grazing menu. We’re looking to open that in about five weeks. “We’re excited everything, we’ve focused on the whole guest experience, so whether that’s for the artists in terms of dressing room space, for crews and catering for them, to our own teams where we’ve improved their facilities too and then for all our fans it’s the entrances, new restaurant­s and new bars - all while being close to the action.

“We have done it for everyone that walks through the door.”

It feels like a long time coming, but Manchester is also about to become home to the largest live entertainm­ent arena in the whole of the UK.

Co-Op Live, backed by music sensation Harry Styles, will open in April with a showstoppi­ng lineup of acts including Take That, Olivia Rodrigo, Nicki Minaj and Eric Clapton, among others.

It’s the music capital of the world and there’s enough content to be delivered in two arenas Chris Bray exec vice president for AO Arena

 ?? ?? The AO Arena topping out ceremony this week
The AO Arena topping out ceremony this week

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