Convention centre bid linked to 15,000-capacity arena plan

Plans for an investment of more than £100m that would secure an indoor arena and convention centre for Cardiff can be revealed.

Last week, the Western Mail confirmed that the Welsh Government and Cardiff council were in talks with the aim of engineering finance for a convention centre in the city.

However, it has now emerged that as well as a convention centre, with a capacity for up to 2,500 delegates, they are also looking to build an indoor arena with a capacity of 15,000.

Both projects, if realised, would significantly improve the city’s ability to host major events – building on other world class facilities such as the Millennium Stadium and Wales Millennium Centre and, in terms of retail, the St David’s shopping centre.

The indoor arena would be able to stage sporting events and concerts, as well as annual party political conferences.

It would be significantly larger than the current 5,000- capacity Motorpoint Arena, formerly known as the CIA.

The convention centre has an estimated construction cost of around £60m, with the indoor arena around the same.

The Welsh Government and Cardiff council are exploring a number of funding options, including potentially borrowing – with a low interest long-term repayment term – from the Treasury’s Public Works Loan Board, as well as through the use of tax increment financing.

A number of site options are being considered for the two buildings – although both facilities could be incorporated into one larger scheme.

These include at the Sport Village and land near the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, as well as land around the current Motorpoint Arena in the centre of Cardiff.

While it could not accommodate an indoor arena, a convention centre could be sited at Cardiff Arms Park, owned by Cardiff Athletic Club. However, it is understood that a favoured location for both buildings is on five acres of land at MEPC’s Callaghan Square scheme.

However, a planning application to develop a new 90,000 sq ft office scheme at Callaghan Square was lodged last week with Cardiff council. Submitted by MEPC, the tenant is not disclosed in the application, but is understood to be law firm Hugh James. The application should be determined within the next six weeks.

This means that if plans for a convention centre and indoor arena are to be progressed at Callaghan Square, the Welsh Government and Cardiff council would have to move quickly to agree a land acquisition deal with MEPC – which alongside road infrastructure work could cost as much as £30m – bringing the total cost of realising both schemes to around £150m.

Robert Emanuel, of property advisers Emanuel Jones, which acts for Hugh James, declined to comment as to whether the MEPC application was intended as a new headquarters for the law firm, but added: “It is known in the marketplace that Hugh James is looking for a new HQ building by the spring of 2014.

“Ideally the firm wants a building that is in the newly created enterprise zone [for financial and professional services], so it can enjoy the benefits from what is a Welsh Government and Cardiff council initiative.”

The firm has two leases in the centre of Cardiff; Hodge House and Fusion Point. Both leases expire in 2014, and the firm wants to bring its operations under one roof. Its current sites extend to 65,000 sq ft, where it employs some 500 staff.

A larger HQ of 90,000 sq ft would allow it space to further expand its head count.

But if Callaghan Square becomes the location for a convention centre and an indoor arena, it is unclear how Hugh James could also be accommodated. It would also mean that MEPC’s masterplan to develop 500,000 sq ft of office space would be compromised.

The Welsh Government, Cardiff council and MEPC declined to comment.