REGIONAL VENUES: Expanding fortunes - Conference venues across the country are booming and multi-million pound makeovers seem to be the order of the day. Sara White takes a look at some of the ambitious projects leading the way

The large number of regional venues around the country gives organisers a wide range from which to choose the right environment for conferences and exhibitions. There is also a raft of investment going on in venues with many centres investing in new technology and expanding facilities.

The large number of regional venues around the country gives organisers a wide range from which to choose the right environment for conferences and exhibitions. There is also a raft of investment going on in venues with many centres investing in new technology and expanding facilities.

'At Bournemouth, business is booming and the centre reported a record year in 1999/2000. We have experienced solid bookings in our traditional markets of trade associations and conferences as well as a range of consumer and trade exhibitions,' says Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) head of conferences and exhibitions Clive Tyers.

BIC has hosted the Hotel & Catering Show, Enterprise South, the Holiday Show, Womens World, craft and antiques fairs and the Ideal Home Exhibition.

'A whole range of refurbishments in the public areas and cloakrooms are ongoing. This adds up to a pounds 1.3m renovation which will last for two years,' adds Tyers.

In Scotland, the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) is also involved in a pounds 2.5m refurbishment programme. The work follows on from the final phase of the SECC's redevelopment programme which has seen the construction of the conference centre and a new extension to the venue's west entrance, which was completed in October 1999. 'The main development is the concourse, which is being refurbished with the addition of new flooring, lighting and signage. This amounts to a pounds 2m refurbishment,' says SECC deputy director group marketing Steve Gilchrist. 'Last year was a good one with a large number of exhibitions and events. The market is pretty buoyant at the moment.'

SECC is hosting a number of high-profile exhibitions this year, including the Outdoor Boat, Caravan and Leisure Show, Personal Enterprise organised by Scottish Enterprise, the Holiday & Travel Fair, Wedding Show, Careers Show and the Hotel & Catering Show. Concerts also form the backbone of entertainment events and this year's offerings include Westlife, Texas, Ronan Keating and Craig David.

At Doncaster Conference and Exhibition Centre located at the racecourse, there are plans to build a 5,000sqm hall for exhibitions reflecting a pounds 10m to 13m investment. It will be built within the next three to five years. The existing facility has a 4,300sqm exhibition hall and a large amount of meeting and conference rooms.

Events at the facility include a new Fishing Exhibition, a Model Railway show, Retailing 2001, a number of antiques fairs and the National Testament Sports Car show.

At Telford International Centre (TIC), work has already started on an ambitious expansion programme. Major construction work starts in July and business will continue as normal at the venue during the building work. The pounds 7m facility will be completed in April 2002.

It will provide a dedicated conference and banqueting suite for up to 750. There will be a multipurpose room with capacity for 1,000 theatre-style as well as a series of breakout rooms. Phase two and three of the redevelopment are planned over the next few years, and will include the completion of the new exterior of the buildings, further improvements to public circulation areas - including a new main entrance - and the final stage will be a fourth exhibition hall taking the centre up to 15,000sqm. The venue also benefits from an on-site 150-room Holiday Inn. Events at the centre include a conference for Orange, a brand new exhibition for the Scuba industry, a conference for BAE Systems and the Provetail exhibition.

TIC sales and marketing manager Matthew Lambert says: 'We chose to unveil the final details of our plans and our new branding at International Confex so that trade representatives are the very first to see what the future will bring.

'We will also be unveiling our new corporate logo because we decided that the new development was the ideal time to re-brand the centre, as we had used our previous logo for almost 20 years.

'We know we cannot afford to stand still if we want to continue to be successful. All our key competitors are spending money on improving their facilities and we have to respond or face the consequences.

'The redevelopment will give us the opportunity to raise Telford's profile against competitors such as Manchester, Birmingham, London and Glasgow, for major blue-chip business.

'We are already one of the few venues in the UK that can provide conferences and catering for up to 3,500 delegates on one site, and this new investment will allow our customers to expand their events even further,' adds Lambert.

At Plymouth Pavilions, the range of business events is diverse. Recent shows have included the Childrens Show, Technology Exhibition, Jobscene Recruitment fair and the Opportunity Southwest exhibition organised by the local chamber of commerce. On the conference front, Plymouth Pavilions will be hosting the Federation of Small Businesses annual conference and three Rotary conferences in the autumn.

The main arena can hold 120 stands, with retractable seating and in addition, when floored, the ice-rink provides 750sqm of conference, exhibition and dining space and is equipped with audio and lighting equipment. The meeting room suite offers a highly flexible, air conditioned space which can accommodate anything from a meeting of ten to 230. The on-site catering department can provide parties for as small as ten and up to 2,500 with menus to suit all tastes and budgets.

Brighton Centre conference sales manager Celia Adams says: 'The diary is very full with international and national association conferences.

The Labour Party will be holding its autumn conference at the Brighton Centre and it will attract 20,000 delegates. One of our other big events is the TMA, the telecommunication managers association exhibition, and another event that attracts a high attendance is the Unison conference with 4,000 delegates.

Head of city marketing Amanda Shepherd says: 'We are hoping to find some private sector partners to redevelop the Brighton Centre. News of the proposed development will be announced in the first half of this year.

We are looking for a considerable amount of investment in the Brighton Centre, ranging from a small refurbishment to a major redevelopment.'

At the Dome, a pounds 30m investment programme is under way funded by arts lottery funding. This will transform the venue into an international performing arts centre and conference centre. The auditorium has been completely gutted and will be able to seat 1,800. It is scheduled to open in autumn 2001. Interlocking with the auditorium is the Corn Exchange and the Pavilion theatre.

Brighton Racecourse has also invested in meeting facilities and has maximum capacity theatre-style for 400. In Hove, the conference centre has the Great Hall with capacity for 1,300, the banqueting suite for up to 250 and four breakout rooms.

Eastbourne Devonshire Park Centre sales manager Diana Lumsdaine says: 'We have won some money for the arts side of things to improve facilities.

This is an ongoing development. The funding has been provided by the Strategic Redevelopment Board. We are hoping to redevelop a cultural centre at Devonshire Park and will provide more conference facilities. We have got a pounds 5m grant, but we still need to find more money.'

One of the biggest, high-profile events of the year is the Royal Life Saving Society Commonwealth Conference. This is a biennial conference held in May.

Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC) will have an auditorium seating 800 facing a presentation stage 250sqm in area, with the lighting, sound and latest technology. Adjoining the auditorium is the 1,900sqm Great Northern Hall, which has been designed to host an almost endless variety of events. Breakout rooms provide a more intimate setting in which smaller groups of people can meet while below ground level are extensive storage rooms, workshops and kitchens. MICC will open in May 2001.

Following a pounds 7.6m refit and refurbishment during the past 18 months, the Royal Horticultural Halls and Conference Centre in London, will reopen in March. The main auditorium has capacity for up to 1,000 and now has a full blackout facility. The new roof is triple-glazed and has enhanced acoustic qualities and sound insulation.

The UK's regional venues are investing heavily in new facilities and technology providing a raft of high-tech, quality venues for exhibition organisers.




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