NORTHERN VENUES: Let the Games begin

The 2002 Commonwealth Games have given host city Manchester the opportunity to benefit from a £170m shot in the arm. Cordelia Brabbs looks at the venues that are reaping the benefits of this massive makeover.

From 25 July to 4 August, Manchester will be flooded with athletes and spectators either participating in or watching the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Not only is it going to be the biggest Commonwealth Games, with a record 5,250 athletes from 72 nations taking part, but it will be the largest multi-sport event the UK has hosted. The Friendly Games, as they are also known, will be seen by one million spectators, with another billion people across the globe watching on TV.

The cost of providing venues for the games, including a £30m Aquatics Centre and the City of Manchester Stadium, totals £170m. But the exposure for the city and the surrounding regions in the north of England will be unprecedented - venue owners will be displaying their wares to a global audience.

Prime event

Locally, the games will generate 16,000 jobs in Manchester and bring in £22m-worth of business. There are no specific figures on how much hospitality revenue will be generated during and after the games, but the ten-day sporting jamboree looks set to be a prime event in the corporate hospitality organiser's diary.

The Club Sport facility, set up within the Sportcity complex, will no doubt host many parties (see box opposite) but there is a variety of venues around the city that can be hired for events. One of the most striking is the Imperial War Museum North, which official royal launch on 24 July coincides with the start of the games - although the museum will be open from 5 July. Sit-down dinners can be served to 350 guests while up to 700 people can be catered for at a reception. Tony Smith, the museum's events and catering manager, says: "Corporate events get exclusive use of the public areas and can be held among the displays. So far we have only one Commonwealth country booked in for an event. Many people seem to be taking advantage of the hospitality at Sportcity."

Another unusual venue is Manchester Art Gallery, which reopened recently following a revamp of its furnishings and facilities. The attraction can cater for 200-strong receptions in either its atrium or reception hall.

Manchester Art Gallery events officer Russell Miller says: "We offer a unique space for corporate events - no one else has our art collection and we have just spent £35m on the building.

Enquiries for parties have come mainly from event agencies and sports organisers, but the Scottish team looks set to hold a party there.

International concert venue Bridgewater Hall is also available for hire.

The building, which overlooks a canal basin, has a 1,875-seat auditorium and can cater for up to 140 guests for dinner. Another example of striking architecture is arts and entertaiment complex The Lowry in Salford Quays.

The venue was built as the National Landmark Millennium Project for the Arts and named 2001 Building of the Year. It can seat 160 for dinner.

Escaping the crowds

The Museum of Science and Industry features award-winning permanent galleries and can seat up to 300 guests for banqueting. People looking to escape the Commonwealth crowds can try the Orient Express Northern Belle, which provides dining facilities for up to 252. The train makes regular excursions from Manchester's Victoria Station - trips can even include a brass-band send-off.

Manchester also boasts a range of academic venues, including the University of Manchester and University of Salford, both of which cater for banquets.

Those looking to continue the sporting theme can hire out Manchester United's facilities at Old Trafford, while those keen for a more cosmopolitan setting for their dinner or reception can try the four-floor Tiger Tiger bar and restaurant, or hire the Triangle, a Grade II listed building with an innovative interior and stylish decor that can hold receptions and dinners for up to 350 guests.

On the exhibition front, G-Mex stands less than ten miles from Manchester Airport and one mile from the train station. The venue offers either a single hall of 10,350 sq m or two halls of 7,500 sq m and 2,800 sq m and is hosting the gymnastics, judo and wrestling competitions as well as housing the media centre.

G-Mex marketing manager Keith Robertson says: "The games gives us the opportunity to show off our facilities around the world, which we wouldn't be able to afford to do ourselves through marketing. Our strategy is to use the opportunity to attract the European and US markets, but we will target any country with direct air links to Manchester. We're a venue in the heart of the city. And we can offer accommodation within 20 metres, on-site parking for 2,000 cars and phenomenal facilities and infrastructure."

Jewel in the corporate crown

The jewel in Manchester's corporate crown, though, looks set to be the new City of Manchester Stadium. The 48,000-seat venue stands on Maine Road and will be the new home ground of Manchester City FC from 2003.

The banqueting rooms range from the Chairman's Lounge catering for 20, to the Citizen, which holds 450 and the East Executive Concourse, which can cater for 1,000.

While most of the attention throughout the games will be focused on Sportcity, it is not the only area in Manchester that will be offering corporate hospitality. For those who look further than the running track, there is a raft of diverse venues waiting to be put to good use.

THE PLACE TO PARTY

Hospitality for the Commonwealth Games is centred around the Sportcity complex in east Manchester, 2km from the city centre. Sodexho Prestige is the official supplier and has compiled 93 corporate hospitality packages.

Sportcity includes the City of Manchester Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held, indoor and outdoor athletics facilities, the national Squash Centre, the National Cycling Centre, a netball and badminton sports hall, table tennis facilities, sports science and medicine facilities and office accommodation.

There will also be a hospitality marquee, Club Sport, outside the central stadium, providing food and drink from four-course lunches to high teas.

This will be a secure venue, segregated from the main spectator areas but still at the heart of the games. It will be styled like a trendy sports bar, with casual dining areas, outdoor landscaped gardens and banks of TVs with live coverage of the games.

"We've sold a tremendous number of packages already,

says hospitality sales director Alan Mayes. "There's been huge interest from corporate clients - mainly in the north west - and it's going to be a magnificent affair."

REGIONAL VARIATIONS

Exhibition facilities in the region say it is too soon to know what the spin-off benefits from the games will be, but they all hope the event will bring international attention to northern England and generate awareness for further events.

Doncaster Exhibition and Conference Centre (DECC) exhibition manager Darryl Coy says: "I don't know what the effect is going to be but with the Pennines between us and Manchester some people won't come here while the games are on.

Harrogate International Centre (HIC) head of marketing and sales Stuart Mackay adds: "The focus on the North will be a positive aspect, but I don't know what the immediate spin-off benefit of the games will be."

Those who do head north for an exhibition or event will have numerous options. Harrogate boasts the HIC and the Yorkshire Event Centre, as well as attractions including the Turkish Baths, the Royal Pump Museum and Betty's Tea Rooms. Just outside Harrogate, Rudding Park hotel provides a golf course and outdoor activities. Bradford, which is bidding to be European Capital of Culture in 2008, has the 1853 Hockney Gallery in Saltaire and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, both of which can cater for receptions and dinners. Doncaster is home to The Dome, which seats up to 600 guests for dinner, and the DECC, which has 4,300 sq m of exhibition space.


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