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£20.6m revamp of Birmingham NIA gets green light

A £20.6 million refurbishment of the NIA, which is set to transform Birmingham’s skyline, has been given the green light.

An artist's impression of the new National Indoor Arena

A s20.6 million refurbishment of the NIA, which is set to transform Birmingham's skyline, has been given the green light.

The modernisation of the venue, which has been partly funded by selling naming rights to Barclaycard, has been granted full planning permission by Birmingham City Council.

The scheme, to be carried out by Galliford Try, includes a large glazed facade with views over the city's canals and three towering sky needles which will be 135ft lighting sculptures.

NIA managing director Phil Mead told the Post the plans would protect hundreds of jobs at the arena by making it the equal of any in the UK.

He said the marketplace has altered drastically since the NIA first opened in 1991 with around a dozen more competitors in the UK today fighting to host major international shows.

Work on the two-year scheme, set to begin in 2013, will see an additional 64,000 sq ft added, taking the venue to a total of 145,000 sq ft.

Mr Mead said: "The NIA is holding on really well in terms of the amount we are offering, so it is not a question of needing the refurbishment.

"We need to do this work to protect and continue to attract events in the future and be attractive to artists, sports promoters and organisers and raise the bar for the audience.

"The difference in the arena market today is every city wants to have one. It used to be every city had a cathedral now it seems they all have arenas.

"Lady Gaga or Oasis can only play so many dates so it is about staying in the Premier League."

Mr Mead said there are now 16 venues that can hold more than 5,000 people in the UK, with plans to develop a new arena in Glasgow ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

He added: "When we first started there was just a handful. There was Wembley, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Manchester didn't have a purpose-built arena, it was the G-Mex which was quite different.

"The market has changed dramatically in terms of entertainment. The demise of the record industry means year-on-year artists are getting out more shows.

"There is also the growth of comedy. We have just had a run of nine nights of Michael McIntyre and three of John Bishop."

The plans aim to make more of the NIA's canalside base and will feature a new showcase entrance straight from Brindleyplace into the arena.

The NIA, which has hosted events from Gladiators to Eurovision and Ozzy Osbourne to Cliff Richard, brings s150 million into Birmingham's economy every year and supports about 2,500 jobs, including 650 directly.

Mr Mead was said the s21 million cost of the redevelopment was not coming from the public purse.

He said funding would come from renaming the venue as the NIA, A Barclaycard Unwind Experience, after agreeing a five-year deal.

The business case also includes making more from the pre- and post-show experience.

He said: "In today's economic situation, it is not easy for the city council to be handing out grants of that order.

"We have looked at the operations to increase revenues across the arena and put a business case together and we have been out to sell the naming rights of the building and succeeded in that."

"The NEC Group has agreed a deal with Barclaycard. The NIA will retain its name but become the NIA, A Barclaycard Unwind Experience.

"If you combine that with the pre-show hospitality and food and beverage and retail element along the canal that all generates more revenue, which is part of the business case. It is not publicly-funded in the sense that we have got money we dont pay back we pay it back based on increased revenue.

"The NIA has become established as a home for athletics, as the only arena of its type built to house an athletics track, but is also well-known on an international basis for gymnastics and badminton."

After an unprecedented summer of sport, Mr Mead believes there are early signs that the Olympics may boost the market for sporting events at the NIA, which hosts the Aviva Grand Prix Athletics and All England Badminton each year.

"I think it has," Mr Mead said. "We just hosted the Horse Of The Year show at the LG Arena and the audience was up this year and there is no doubt a big part of that was the Olympics.

"The excitement around sport has to be good for us and Birmingham City Council is as keen as we are to continue to attract big events.

He added: "The benefit of the NIA is that it is in the city centre so as far as officials, the media and everyone involved with staging events they can stay on the doorstep.

"That is the big benefit. It is in a particularly good position in terms of infrastructure.

"As the airport expands and HS2 comes into the city, as well as the development of New Street Station, it will certainly help as well.

"The opening of the new library will also help by raising the profile of the city and when you are talking to international organisers it is the total experience that counts, not just the venue.

"By making the venue world-class again it puts Birmingham in a great place for the future."

The Post reported in the summer that the NEC Group, which owns the NIA, suffered from a worldwide slump in major artists touring last year.

The group, which also owns catering business Amadeus and national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory, saw its annual deficit widen to s20.2 million from s7.7 million last year after interest on historic loans was taken into account.

But NEC bosses said the financial performance which delivered an operating profit of s16.9 million in the year to March 31, 2012, was marginally ahead of expectations.

 

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