Co-op Live incident “was almost catastrophic”

The boss of Manchester’s troubled new Co-op Live Arena has described how an incident in which part of a ventilation system fell from the ceiling could have been “catastrophic” if it had happened 15 minutes later.

However, Tim Leiweke said the facilities had now been “triple checked” and he was confident it was “the safest building in the world” ahead of its final scheduled opening on Tuesday.

Manchester band Elbow will play the first official show at the venue after three opening attempts were canceled.

Last month, shows by comedian Peter Kay and rock group The Black Keys were postponed because the building wasn’t ready.

Then, in early May, a gig by US rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie was canceled at the last minute after he suffered a near miss with the ventilation duct following his soundcheck.

“If that had been 15 minutes later, something catastrophic could have happened,” Mr Leiweke told BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson.

Mr Leiweke, managing director of arena operator Oak View Group, said one of 95 prefabricated filters fell from the ceiling to the floor of the standing area in the auditorium shortly before the doors opened.

He said there was “no way” they could have known it wasn’t installed properly.

“They didn’t put the screws in. It was not visible to the naked eye,” he said. “And it fell out.

“Since then we have had it double and triple checked. We’ve now looked at thousands of bolts up in the ceiling. We looked at life safety lines. And we wanted to take the time to make sure we did it right.”

As a result, the venue paused its opening for almost two weeks and Take That, Olivia Rodrigo and Keane’s shows were cancelled.

“It was impossible for us to open the doors until we checked every screw, every bolt and every single one of those 95 shafts.”

Mr Leiweke told the BBC that the total cost of Co-op Live, which is set to be the UK’s largest indoor arena with a capacity of 23,500 spectators, is now close to £450 million.

Elbows on stageElbows on stage

Elbow is expected to open the venue on Tuesday (Getty Images)

On Tuesday morning, dozens of workers wearing high-visibility vests and hard hats were still in and around the venue.

Although Mr Leiweke insisted Tuesday’s opening would go smoothly, he acknowledged some parts may not be fully completed for another six months.

After a building opens, there is usually an extensive “punch list” of tasks that need to be completed, he said.

“This building will evolve over time. I suspect there will be people coming here in the next six months and working on this punch list.”

The arena’s numerous delays and problems have caused it to become the focus of criticism and ridicule, causing widespread uproar among fans.

Mr Leiweke said the disruption to people’s lives was “what I’m most upset about and what I feel worst about”.

Around 12,000 people are expected at the Elbow show on Tuesday. “We’ll continue tonight. So everything is good,” said Mr Leiweke.

He insisted it was “the largest arena built outside the United States” and said he was not concerned that the arena had only hosted one test event.

This was announced by Rick Astley on April 20th, but thousands of people had their tickets canceled at the last minute to reduce capacity because they were not ready.

The ventilation system incident occurred on May 1st. Nobody was injured.

The Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws at construction sites, did not inspect or investigate the arena and said the incident did not fall under its reporting obligations.

Manchester City Council, which is responsible for health and safety at venues, said it had “received documents confirming that the venue has carried out the necessary investigations following the incident, with the air ducts providing reassurance that they are complying with their duties in the.” have taken into account the health and safety framework.” Law”.

Too much rain

The arena took five years to build after there were delays in construction partly due to Brexit, Covid and Manchester’s weather, Mr Leiweke claimed.

“I’ll be the first to tell you what everyone else in development and construction will probably tell you. It’s harder to build anything in the UK today,” he said.

“We got through Covid, we got through Brexit, we got through the wettest period in the last 20 years. I had to put a roof on in the middle of the rain.”

“All of these things ultimately had an impact. It’s thanks to the 10,000 people who built this arena that they stuck with it.”

Harry Styles “cheers us on”

He also cited police calls for a dedicated emergency communications system and accepted responsibility for security in Manchester after a 2017 suicide bombing at the city’s other arena that killed 22 people.

“Because of the bombing, the standards are different here in Manchester,” Mr Leiweke said. “So safety is very important to us.

“We had to install a second secure communication system for the police here. It was last minute, but we figured it out.”

“So there are things in this building that I haven’t had to do anywhere else because we think very carefully about what happened here (in Manchester).”

The venue is a joint venture between Oak View Group, co-founded by Mr Leiweke and US music mogul Irving Azoff, and City Football Group, owned by billionaire UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour.

Harry Styles is among the other investors. Mr Leiweke said he had had “a few conversations” with the singer in recent weeks.

“Harry only asked about us because he knows what we’ve been through,” he said. “And look, that was hard. So he’s a good friend and a good partner and he’s cheering us on and he’ll be here soon.”