Monday, November 10, 2008

The Leeds Entertainment Industry Leads!

This is a significant and exciting time for the Leeds entertainment industry with five recent major advances in the cities entertainment provision. Firstly the Leeds City Museum opened it’s doors to the public in September, it is free to enter and features variable exhibitions, displays, interactive games, video displays, shop and café, and is situated in Millennium Square, one of the cities entertainment hubs.

Secondly Clarence Dock, an area of redeveloped former brown belt land by the River Aire, saw the opening of the 50,000 square foot Alea Casino and Entertainment complex on the 11th October, to accompany the already in existence Royal Armouries, and exclusive bars / restaurants which inhabit the Clarence Dock area. The Alea complex comprises of restaurants, bars, private dining room, private cinema and of course the casino. At the same time, a number of exclusive shopping outlets also opened, seemingly in defiance of the credit crunch – even this was turned into a 'sellertainment' entertainment spectacle with a fashion show hosted by ‘How to Look Good Naked’ presenter Gok Wan.

Thirdly, the newly opened Leeds Academy – currently Leeds largest live music venue opened its doors to the public in October, with an opening night performance by The Kaiser Chiefs. The Academy is a £3m redevelopment of the formerly Luminar Leisure owned Creation nightclub, which before that was the Town and Country Club. The building itself is Grade 1 listed, and has an entertainment industry pedigree, it began life as the ‘Coliseum’ where it played host to music hall, circus and variety in the early twentieth century, before becoming a cinema, then a bingo hall and social club, and even a television studio. It now has a capacity of 2,300 in the main concert area, with a smaller room holding 400 people for smaller bands. The venue is owned by Academy Music Group Ltd.

Fourthly, the second phase of redevelopment of The Leeds Grand Theatre is finally drawing to a conclusion. Last week I was lucky enough to be part of a student group who were the first members of the public to witness the newly created Howard Assembly Room, which is a stunning oval space, with wooden floor and walls that are designed specifically to balance acoustics, how the room will be used specifically, has yet to be confirmed, but it certainly seems like a versatile space, slightly reminiscent of the Sage in Gateshead. The Howard Assembly Room used to be called the Assembly Rooms and had for a number of years been left as vacant storage space within the theatre, but prior to this had operated as the Plaza Cinema from the early 20th Century until 1978 (sometimes showing ‘risqué’ films to gentlemen clientele).

This is the culmination of a £30.5 million redevelopment plan that has also seen: the stalls re-seated with wider chairs for wider bottoms, and more leg room in-between rows (leading to a slight reduction in capacity); an enlargement of the opera pit; the creation of Opera North’s new Opera Centre; new rehearsal spaces; a sandblasted exterior; new roof; new exterior lighting; and the installation of air conditioning. The Grand Theatre was designed by James Robinson Watson and celebrates its 130th birthday in a fortnights time on the 18th November.

Finally and fifthly, the long awaited Leeds Arena development has officially been given the green light to be built on the former Leeds Met ‘Brunswick’ site and a Council Owned plot of land near Claypit Lane Leeds. The area, behind the Grosvenor Casino, and near the Merrion Centre is ideally located for public transport, and should aid regeneration of the area including the ‘old’ part of the Merrion Centre. Images of the site are featured below.

Above and below the site of the new Leeds Arena

Leeds Initiative have stated that the preferred operator will be SMG who currently operate the MEN Arena in Manchester, the Metro Radio Arena, the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle and the Odyssey in Belfast. The site which is an excellent location for proximity to the city centre, will include a 12,500 seat covered entertainment arena, finally putting Leeds on the ‘large scale’ entertainment tour schedule. Rival Northern cities Sheffield, Hull and Manchester already have their own Entertainment Arena’s, and have consistently managed to attract bands to their cities, to the detriment of the Leeds live entertainment scene. This will eclipse the Leeds Academy in terms of size, but hopefully will not have a significant impact on other live entertainment venues within Leeds – just as Oceana unfortunately did on the local nightclub sector when it opened. This must of course be a concern to some smaller venue operators in the city. The choice of location for this site has proved controversial, land adjacent to Elland Road (below) and another near city centre location were both earmarked for the Arena – though the site that the council has chosen is by far the most suitable, and should facilitate the Arena’s success.

The Elland Road site that will now not be used
Unfortunately it isn’t all good news, the announcement was also made last week that the historic Joshua Tetley Brewery is to close in 2011 with the loss of 170 jobs. Tough market conditions have been blamed for the closure. The Brewery land which is geographically close to the Clarence Dock complex as well as Holbeck Urban Village – the cities new ‘creative cluster’ will no doubt be considered as the location for further new mixed usage developments (once the economy has got back to normal), as the city will continue to grow, and along with that the demand for more recreation spaces. Some interesting historic information about the area can be found here.

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