Co-op Live brings intimacy, grandeur and a good old dose of Mr Styles to Manchester
What do Harry Styles, rainwater harvests and local vegan food offerings have in common?
No, they don't all feature in a teenage fever dream. In fact, they are all talking points of the new Co-Op Live arena, currently under construction east of the city centre next to the Etihad campus and set to transform Manchester. This one's a biggie.
One of the key initiatives for the Co-Op Live team to shout about is the development’s huge commitment to sustainability
Aiming to open in December 2023, the 23,500 capacity venue will be the first purpose-built music arena in the UK, to the tune of £365 million, making it the UK's most expensive arena.
You might do a double-take at that nugget – really, the first? But most other venues of a similar size are originally sports venues and as such, not all the facilities are primed for hosting blockbuster gigs, especially if they are outdoors, as Old Trafford residents will attest.
Working with local suppliers, sticking to the budget, and giving fans a truly unique and immersive experience, the arena isn't just the biggest, it's a revolutionary feat for music and live entertainment in the UK, and we've got the inside scoop.
An intimate black bowl
So while the Co-Op Live Arena will be big, in fact, the biggest indoor venue in the UK, it will “feel like an intimate nightclub”, promise the organisers. The bowl-shaped arena will “elevate the experience for artists and fans, and the audience will be able to get 15 metres closer to the stage. This will create an intimate set-up despite the arena's scale." Get ready to smell Harry Styles' shampoo.
Its “black box” design means that performers will be able to reconfigure the space to their exact specifications, with cutting-edge acoustic and visual technology. The roof has been lowered to improve acoustics and concert-goers will be closer to the action than ever before as "the building is only 25 metres from stage to ceiling". For context, the second floor of this Co-Op arena is equivalent to the height of the O2's fourth floor.
To prevent the whole space from feeling like one big billboard, "there is no branding in the bowl, there are no logos, advertisements, featured brands etc. that may disturb the blank canvas that the artists have to play in. Performers can really create their own show and immerse their fans as much as possible within their art." This decision was strongly influenced by the creative direction of Mr Styles himself.
Take us on a tour, Tim
The Co-Op Live arena is owned by a man who humbly dons himself "the world's most expensive tour guide", which is disarming since he is one of the richest, most powerful men in the world. Owner of multiple sports teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tim also bought the O2 for a quid back in 2005. A bargain billionaire.
Despite having to navigate a load of issues including Brexit, COVID and recession(s) since the project began, the UK's most expensive arena is miraculously on target for both completion and budget.
It doesn't hurt that their commitment to locality means that much of the £365 million budget is being spent in the UK. The steel used to build the arena comes from Bolton and its precast concrete from Northern Ireland. The project was also financed way in advance. "That's the Manchester way," says Tim. "One of the things we always said about Manchester is [that] a really cool blue-collar culture exists in this town. We definitely feel that impact on our ability to keep this on schedule and on budget".
Opening in Styles
While live music is obviously the mainstay of the calendar, other large live events such as comedy, sports, award shows and interactive experiences will be catered for. According to the team, "There are 120 events that we're predicting in the first year, and that will probably grow. These will be 80% music, probably 10% Sport, and 10% comedy and family entertainment." The first tranche of live acts will be announced in September 2023.
And what of a certain Mr Styles? As the project's biggest individual investor, his comely visage is splashed all over marketing materials, of course, and is expected to be a star turn at the opening ceremony. Get your feather boas at the ready.
Harry, says Tim, is "really excited about the whole project, and is very much involved in a number of ways. With a lot of our premium clubs, a lot of the back of house, and a lot of the artists' compound, Harry actually put the final touches on the designs himself. I believe he used to be a bag packer for Co-Op too." So he's come full circle.
One of the key initiatives for the Co-Op Live team to shout about is the development’s huge commitment to sustainability. The building will run completely on electricity, much of it coming from the 8883 m2 of solar panels. In fact, it’s estimated it will use 50% less energy than other similar-sized venues and overall, the design will enable a 23 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.
There are commitments in place to produce zero food and plastic waste, air-source heat pumps, intelligent building controls plus cycle spaces and a biodiversity pledge, while the aforementioned rainwater harvesting will contribute to flushing the many loos.
As we explored the building's features using a scarily accurate to-scale model at Co-Op Live HQ, one team member explained, "You can see there are solar panels on the roof. A facility that collects all of the rainwater is flushing the toilets and doing all of our irrigation. The building is made of a perforated skin which allows it to breathe, and our heat source technology collects the cold air from the outside and pushes the hot air back out of the building."
While ticking the sustainability box has been a long-term commitment, it also serves to help attract star performers, many of whom are redesigning their touring practices to be more environmentally friendly. The Co-Op team mentioned that artists like Coldplay, Billie Eilish, and Sam Fender are keen to make their tours as sustainable as possible, encouraging fans to walk or get public transport to the venue, and some are even insisting on vegan and vegetarian options when it comes to the venue's hospitality offerings.
This wouldn’t be Manchester Confidential if we weren’t asking about the scran. Details have yet to be confirmed about specific vendors, but there will be 32 bars and restaurants, 28 premium suites and 12 lounge club spaces. It's like Changi Airport with meat alternatives and local ingredients.
We asked Tim what sets Co-Op Live's food and beverage offerings apart from the usual hotdog and a pint of piss that comes hand in hand with live entertainment. The big dog then explained, "We bought a F&B company called Spectra in November last year [that] will be the caterer and concessionaire for Co-Op Live. We are aiming for 100% of what we buy to come from the region. We will also localise and [build] partnerships with local brands and local chefs."
Talking about Manchester's journey over the past 10-15 years, Tim also notes, "The thing I've noticed about Manchester since I started doing business here is that you have grown up. There will be a very Manchester-driven menu and a group of Manchester vendors and restaurants and chefs that will actually be in the building serving their food."
Which foodie spots do you want to see at the UK's biggest arena?
Living in a box
A limited number of corporate boxes are still available at the Co-Op Live arena, with current clientele including the jewellery brand Boodles and bookmakers Betfred - they'll set you back about a quarter of a mil per annum. However, the Co-Op Live team explain that, due to the venue's unique configuration, "you don't see the box's glass frontage and people drinking champagne whilst chatting away and doing all of that corporate stuff. This side of the viewing experience has been hidden and tidied away so that everybody gets pushed out to feel the emotion and intimacy of the venue."
The venue also has fewer corporate boxes than your usual event space, with 28 suites in total and only five still available (the O2 has 96 suites). This smaller premium offering means more space for general ticket sales and a larger crowd within the bowl itself. There is also a slightly more affordable VIP member's club called AMP, offering year-round access to the best seats in the house. If you are interested in a corporate box or AMPS membership, you can put down a deposit and chat to the team for some more information.
That's not all folks
A venue and development of this size incorporates a whole host of other factors for the Manchester city region. Topics like public transport, supporting other local grassroots corporations, and ensuring that locals feel both involved and accounted for are also on both Tim Leiweke and Andy Burnham's radar. What a duo.
As we spoke to both the Co-Op Live team and Tim Leiweke in more detail about what this spot means for East Manchester, what to expect in terms of transport links, and how the arena is feeding back into the community, expect to see some more info from us on those subjects in the coming weeks.
For now, you can look at some virtual pics of Co-Op Live on the website, and if you love some serious crane action, a live stream of the venue's construction is running 24/7.
Header Image: Co-Op Live