Stage is set for Sheffield Arena to tackle Leeds

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

SHEFFIELD Arena this week prepared to face the challenge from its Leeds rival from later this year with the announcement of a multi-million pound refurbishment.

A new roof and 12,500 new seats are part of the first major revamp of the Attercliffe venue since it opened in 1991.

The upgrade has been planned for some time, but the opening of the Leeds Arena next September has underlined the need to compete more keenly in attracting concerts, sports event and other attractions.

In recent weeks, managers of the Motorpoint Arena in Broughton Lane, who host Strictly Come Dancing this weekend, have secured the big names of The Who and Miranda Hart, but the Leeds list is starting to grow, arguably at the expense of Sheffield. After the opening concert with Elton John on September 4, the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Andrea Bocelli are plumping for West over South Yorkshire.

Performers such as Miranda Hart and Micky Flanagan are playing both cities.

Sheffield International Venues, which oversees the running of the Arena, says visitors generate millions of pounds for the local economy. Hotels say it has a “significant” effect on occupancy levels.

The first stage of the revamp - a new roof - is already underway, to be followed later this year by the installation of “more modern and comfortable seating”. There will also be new energy efficient lighting and the replacement of all the external concourse doors.

New scratch resistant plexiglass will be fitted to improve viewing when the Arena becomes the home of Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team.

SIV chief executive Steve Brailey said an important business decision had been made “to invest in a high value asset that brings world-class acts and events to Yorkshire and the Sheffield city region.

“It will allow us to enhance the customer’s experience and further highlight the Arena as one of the premier entertainment and leisure venues in the UK, capable of attracting and hosting a wide and diverse range of events, including concerts, sporting events, exhibitions and conferences.

“It gives us the opportunity to enhance Yorkshire’s place on the world stage, increasing the national and international profile of the Sheffield city region and importantly will allow us stay as the region’s premier entertainment venue with the onset of Leeds Arena. We expect the full cost of the investment to be exceeded by the income from additional business opportunities.”

“Attracting acts like The Who to the region and with the prospect of other big names to come is vital for us to generate increased expenditure, ultimately boosting our economy, and the investment will put us in the strongest possible position to achieve this.”

Arena general manager Rob O’Shea said: “We are committed to attracting world-class entertainment for our loyal audiences, who travel from across the North and the Midlands”.

Further investment is due to be announced at a later date.

When Elton John announced his only UK indoor date of the year, Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield described it as “a real statement of intent” and an indication that Leeds “will compete with the best in Europe and indeed the world”.

SIV has admitted that the competition from up the M1 will hit their income, but believes one of Sheffield’s key advantages is the location close to the motorway compared with a “nightmare” drive into Leeds city centre. Improvements to the Attercliffe car park are on the agenda to help drive home the point.

The Motorpoint Arena is run for SIV by Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in the world. The 13,500 capacity Leeds Arena will be operated by another big entertainment company, SMG.

More than 700,000 customers saw a range of events last year in the east end of Sheffield, ranging from top sporting fixtures to concerts by international superstars.

Another “stellar” year is promised for 2013.

Bookings for 2013 include five nights of The Queen and Ben Elton musical, We Will Rock You, five nights of Mrs Brown and nine performances of Walking with Dinosaurs. Also on the way are Eddie Izzard, Girls Aloud, Jessie J, One Direction, Rod Stewart and Rush.