Earlier this week, ACC Liverpool announced plans to create a £40m purpose-built exhibition space.
In an exclusive trade interview with Exhibition News, ACC Liverpool chief executive Bob Prattey outlined why it’s important for Liverpool to gain a purpose-built exhibition hall.
Where did the decision to build a dedicated exhibition venue come from?
The genesis for the whole programme stemmed from the fact that when we are staging major conferences, we don’t have enough space to accommodate concurrent exhibitions. Most conferences derived their income from the exhibition being held alongside it. The only opportunity we had to facilitate this was to move into the Echo Arena floor.
Operationally that’s fine, but the challenge is the opportunity cost in taking out that arena. If you add in two or three days of build up time, it restricts our ability to run other events in the arena and creates uncertainty in the availability of exhibition space. We needed to remove the opportunity cost and challenge to take the pressure off the area.
We also needed to develop other strategies and a more robust business plan to support our bill programme and create a more sustainable environment for concert space and banqueting facilities. In addition, there is demand from the standalone exhibition market that Liverpool has not been able to satisfy. I have spoken to many exhibition organisers about market demand, and when we add all that market opportunity together, there’s a strong business plan for building this new facility.
Where has the £40m come from?
We have been awarded the funds by the Liverpool City Council. The Council recognises the large economic impact our existing facilities bring in the region. So far, Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre, which opened in 2008, have contributed £100m annually to our local economy. That has given the Council confidence to complete the trilogy.
The investment demonstrates the importance of events for Liverpool’s economy and is a bold decision from the City Council that recognises an exhibition complex can provide economic benefits.
How did ACC Liverpool come up with the idea of three 2,700sqm interconnected halls?
We spoke with Birmingham-based architects Seymour Harris, who were involved in The NEC’s expansion and also worked on the exhibition halls at Ricoh Arena. They understands what the market needs in terms of detailed services and facilities and we utilised that experience to build up a costing plan. Now the funding and project has been agreed, the next phase is to appoint architects to build our vision.
Given our close proximity to the World Heritage Albert Docks, I’d expect to go through an European Union tender procurement process to select our key architects. There is a desire to build buildings of architectural significance and we will have a cost premium – we won’t be building ‘crinkly sheds’.
Will ACC Liverpool look to strike partnerships with key organisers in the lead-up to the launch of the new venue?
We have had preliminary discussions with would-be customers. One of the things we want to do is understand the needs of exhibition organisers in the critical design phase – so things like catering, depth of service ducts and so on. We want to build what’s required by the market.
What percentage do you expect to be standalone exhibitions versus confex-style business?
On the one hand, the new exhibition space is going to support ongoing conference demand. We want to attract European and worldwide conferences so we need more exhibition space to support that. But this is also about developing a standalone exhibition market in both consumer and trade sectors. We’re not looking at huge exhibitions, but we think there’s a market for regional shows replication national and international brands and that can bring products closer to the local market. There may also be niche shows with a national and international basis that could come to us.
Who are your main venue competitors?
Locally, we’re potentially competing with race courses, football clubs and hotels but in this instance we want to bring additional events in contrast to competing.
Regionally, we’re in the North West and we believe we’ll develop our own market place to some degree. We’re within a one-hour drive time of 2m people and have our own core market. We could also tap into the North Wales market. Nationally, there are all the normal competitors.
Have your plans been impacted by the launch of EventCity in Manchester?
EventCity is a new competitor we have been aware of and another venue to compete with. Prior to its launch, the North West was peculiarly under resourced for exhibitions. By developing more space, we’re giving opportunities for new entrants and existing organisers to run more regional shows. I expect to see an even split of trade and consumer exhibitions.
We are talking to North West media owners about generating new shows on the basis that we can put the venue in. We are conscious that we are entering a mature market in the UK and we hope to take existing organisers with us.
As these facilities come on-board, we will have management teams working with organisers to be more innovative with the types of products out there. We also recognise markets change, so we have future-proofed ourselves to some degree by being able to stage a wide range of events through the adjustable roof heights. We also want to talk to the market before a spade goes into the ground. We recognise we need to work in imaginative ways to ensure events are successful and help attract visitors and exhibitors. We will work with the agencies in Liverpool to promote and drive visitor numbers.
Why September 2014?
There’s a process we need to go through and September is a realistic target which ties into the start of the exhibition year. The finance is there so we need to now get project management and design on-board. We’ll go out to tender for architects and have this secured by May 2012. Hopefully we’ll be onsite shortly after that.
What’s your take on the cancellation of the first Liverpool Boat Show?
The demise of that event has nothing to do with Liverpool; it appeared to be issues with the marine industry itself. The organiser Marine Industry Events has repeatedly praised the city’s ‘can-do’ attitude and I think our efforts around that show demonstrated Liverpool’s ability to be a one-stop show destination. It also demonstrated that the city appreciates the value of these events to our city’s prosperity.
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