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Build it and they will come
posted on: 10/1/2011 12:26:38
p34 tom gray
The International Centre in Telford is in the midst of a two-pronged strategy to extend event facilities and bring more business to the region. EN takes a look at its plans.

There are substantial plans afoot in Telford to improve exhibition and conference business. Owners and managers of the town’s International Centre, Southwater Event Group, have embarked on a multi-million pound redevelopment to expand its total event space, as well as improve accommodation and public concourse areas.

The new Ludlow Suite, which is due to be completed in June 2011, will offer an additional 1,000sqm facility to prospective events, while a new reception area, bars and extended hotel facilities by 2013 will increase capacity to house organisers, exhibitors and visitors.

But the extension is just the first step in a £250m, 10-15 year masterplan between Southwater and Telford and Wrekin Council to transform the venue into the commercial and residential heart of the Telford area.

According to the Southwater team, one of the biggest challenges is adequate night-time and retail activity for visitors to the region. The long-term commercial redevelopment is designed to future-proof the centre by providing exhibition and conference attendees with complementary facilities and attractions.

Proposed features include a new retail district, bars, a leisure centre with swimming pool, additional hotels, water features, a learning and media centre, redeveloped cinema, ice rink and tenpin bowling sites, council buildings and a regenerated surrounding landscape.

Short-term gains

Southwater CEO Tom Gray said the new Ludlow Suite was part of its ongoing policy to attract more corporate and association business. Alongside the main extension, the company is also building two adjoining suites and 20 syndicate rooms, which will bring total event space up to 15,000sqm by June 2011 including 11,000sqm across three exhibition halls.

“First and foremost, the business case made it a simple decision,” Gray explained. “Having a cost-effective Midlands venue actually means we’ve continued to grow despite the financial conditions, as organisers continue to look for greater value.

“Also as the catering is in-house, we own the local hotels, and have an in-house production company, we can drive in more events, so the incremental spend in these areas is generally greater.”

Gray said Southwater also maintains an “aggressive sales policy” to build on exhibition business in 2011.

A key selling point was the ability for organisers to brand the entire venue and space, he said. Shows now tenanted at The International Centre include Pro-Retail, the Solex Outdoor Show, Classic Off Road and Racing Show and Scale ModelWorld. The venue also claims to have picked up business from Manchester Central – most recently, the Slide snow sports exhibition.

“Unlike other venues, we have more revenue streams, tenancy being just one of them. This means if we feel the event is beneficial to the Group as a whole, we can reduce the rental,” Gray said. “I’m not sure other venues can really do this and it does make us very competitive. I certainly hope and expect to see new shows here in 2011.”

Long-term planning

The joint “masterplan” between Southwater and Telford and Wrekin Council was about addressing the night-time activity and cultural issues currently facing Telford by making it a more holistic and attractive destination for events, Gray said.

“For too long we’ve worked in isolation and a large part of our plan is greater connectivity with Telford Town Centre,” he said. “We now have improved pedestrian links, as well as planning permission for a 300-bedroom hotel which will be directly linked to The International Centre, leading up to International Square which the Council is now already starting work on.”

The ultimate aim was to make Telford synonymous with being an event destination, Gray concluded.

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