First Direct Arena
|Former names||Leeds Arena|
|Owner||Leeds City Council|
|Broke ground||February 2011|
|Opened||24 July 2013 (first concert)
4 September 2013
|Construction cost||£60 million|
|Project manager||Davis Langdon, An AECOM Company|
|Main contractors||BAM Construct UK Ltd|
The first direct arena (formerly known as the Leeds Arena) is a 13,500 capacity entertainment focused arena in Leeds, West Yorkshire. It is the first in the United Kingdom to have a fan-shaped orientation.
The arena officially opened its doors on 4 September 2013 with Sir Elton John, playing to an audience of 12,000. Bruce Springsteen had, however, held the first concert on 24 July 2013, with an audience of 13,000. The arena's opening season in 2013 later included acts including Kaiser Chiefs, Rod Stewart and Depeche Mode.
Public demand for an arena in Leeds
Leeds had been the largest city in the United Kingdom without a major venue to hold music or indoor sporting events. As of February 2010[update], Bristol and Leeds were the only major cities without an arena style venue. Previously, the Queen's Hall was used for popular music concerts but this was demolished in 1989. Since 1989, there have been a number of failed attempts at building a major venue in Leeds.
An arena has been long requested by residents in Leeds. The consultation on the Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020 showed a strong demand from the public for a new arena, and the project became one of the city's 12 priorities. The Leeds Initiative formed a Cultural facilities task group to consider options. It appointed PMP consultants whose report outlined the viability of a Leeds Arena,and other potential projects such as a concert hall. The task group recommended that the Council proceed with the development of a 12,500 seat arena.
Whilst this study was taking place, campaigners including the Yorkshire Evening Post lobbied for a new arena to be built in the city. This resulted in a widescale 'Leeds needs an arena' campaign that had endorsements from local artists including the Kaiser Chiefs as well as local businesses and residents. The campaign was well publicised in local media, and included popular Myspace and Facebook groups.
Developer and operator competition
Following this, competitions began to find an operator and developer for an arena. In March 2008, SMG were chosen as the future operators of the first direct arena, following worldwide interest from potential operators in the scheme. SMG also operate arenas in Newcastle, Belfast and Manchester and operate over 200 venues worldwide. The addition of Leeds strengthens their position in the UK Arena market. SMG's European managing director has stated that Leeds will be its "flagship venue" in Europe and that they expect first direct arena "to be in the top 10 in the world within two to three years of opening".
Two main bidders were involved in the competition to develop the arena. These were the Council owned land at Elland Road as one location which would have been developed by GMI Construction and land owned by Montpellier Estates in Sweet Street, Holbeck with Montpellier Estates being developer of the latter site. However, in November 2008, Leeds City Council announced they had terminated the developer competition and chosen Claypit Lane as the site for the new arena and would proceed as the developer. This resulted in a legal challenge from Montpellier Estates. Montpellier's claim for more than £43.5 million was rejected by Justice Supperstone in a Judgement handed down on 6 February 2013.
The arena's location, on Claypit Lane is situated at the Northern Quarter of Leeds city centre, behind the Merrion Centre. The land the arena was built on was the Claypit Lane Council car park and land formerly owned by Leeds Metropolitan University. Demolition of the former Leeds Metropolitan building was completed in 2009.
Independent economic impact assessments conducted by Yorkshire Forward show that the new arena will bring over £25 million to the local economy every year and bring 300 full-time jobs. The money provided by Leeds City Council will come from part of the proceeds from their sale of Leeds Bradford International Airport in October 2007, Yorkshire Forward grant support and revenues from rent and commercial activities. The total scheme costs are estimated to be in the region of £80 million including land costs.
The arena is constructed in a super theatre fan shaped format as opposed to the more conventional bowl or horse-shoe seating arrangement commonly used by most arenas in the United Kingdom. The arena promises 'perfect sightlines' from each seat and the longest distance from the stage is 68 metres as opposed to 95–110 metres at a traditionally designed Arena. According to the City Council, flat floor seating and 15 rows of retractable seating can be removed to create a huge floor area holding thousands of standing spectators. The interior design is flexible and the First Direct Arena accommodates a range of events including:
- Music concerts in various configurations
- Comedy events
- Family shows, such as "Walking with Dinosaurs"
- Ice dance shows and family dance shows
- Boxing/ Wrestling/ UFC
- Shows ranging from 1,500 capacity to 13,500 capacity
The external design was announced in August 2010. The external design has a honeycomb design. This design uses – a voronoi diagram – to create cellular shapes that are visible on key approaches to the arena.
On an evening, the front of the building has the ability to change colour or pattern dependent on the show or mood of the arena at the time.
On 2 May 2013, telephone and internet bank First Direct were announced as the sponsor of the arena, with the name officially becoming the First Direct Arena. The naming rights will expire in 2018.
Opposition from South Yorkshire
Yorkshire Forward's support and intended £18 million funding has gained much publicity and has been subject to fierce political fighting. Some critics outlined that public funding is common on most recent Arena developments as seen in the Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool developments. Each arena gained public funding and this was not protested by other established arenas. However, there was some opposition to the Leeds Arena from the owners of Sheffield Arena and Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, who believe that the arena would adversely affect Sheffield Arena especially as the Leeds Arena would acquire funding from Yorkshire Forward. However, Yorkshire Forward stated that they fully support the development of an arena in Leeds and that an independent economic impact assessment also showed that a Leeds Arena would be of benefit to the entire region. Subsequently, Yorkshire Forward reaffirmed support to provide funding to the scheme. However, following a decision by BIS, central government initially did not authorise Yorkshire Forward to provide funding to the scheme. Soon after, it was announced that £9.9 million funding was authorised by central government. This was met with fierce criticism from Sheffield MPs, but received positive responses in the Leeds City Region.
The first event in the arena was a concert by Bruce Springsteen on 24 July 2013 although the arena officially opened in September 2013. A wide variety of events have already taken place or been scheduled, including:
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Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Kaiser Chiefs, Stereophonics, Rod Stewart, Andrea Bocelli, James Blunt, Bryan Adams, Slash, Boyzone, JLS, 5 Seconds of Summer, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Dolly Parton, Eagles, Status Quo, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, James Taylor, Caro Emerald, Manic Street Preachers, Eric Clapton, Il Divo, The Who, Alfie Boe, Michael Bublé, The Script, Madness, Morrissey, Paloma Faith, Queen + Adam Lambert, Olly Murs, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell Williams, Fleetwood Mac, John Legend, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond, Fall Out Boy, Joe Bonamassa, Imagine Dragons, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Paul Weller, alt-J, Simply Red, Mumford & Sons, Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown, Halestorm, Highly Suspect, Slipknot, Foals, Wet Wet Wet, Peter Andre, Ellie Goulding, Mariah Carey, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Little Mix, Jeff Lynne's ELO, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, James, Diljit Dosanjh, Barry Manilow, Gladys Knight.
The arena has hosted WWE Live in November 2013, May 2014, November 2014, April 2015, November 2015 and April 2016. It played host to the 2013 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, on Thursday 20 March 2014, it hosted week 7 of the 2014 Premier League Darts and has hosted two evenings of boxing matches in 2014 including Leeds own Josh Warrington in a British and commonwealth featherweight title match. On 3 July 2014 it is the host for the Tour de France Grande Depart Team Presentation. It also hosted week 1 of the 2015 Premier League Darts due to the success of hosting week 7 of the 2014 Premier League Darts.
The arena hosted the count of various Leeds seats in the 2015 general election including Morley and Outwood where Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat.
The arena is located in Leeds city centre, on Claypit Lane. There are over 7500 car parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the arena, and Leeds railway station and Leeds City bus station are each a 15-minute walk away. There are bus stands nearby on Woodhouse Lane. The proposed New Generation Transport trolleybus will run close to the arena.
- O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds second concert venue
- Queens Hall, Leeds, the largest concert venue in Leeds until its demolition in 1989
- Sheffield Arena, the nearest comparable arena
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