A ground-breaking ceremony has marked the official start of work on a new £83.7m convention centre at the Celtic Manor Resort site in Newport.
International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales, expected to open in mid 2019, will be able to host up to 5,000 delegates in a 1,500-seat auditorium.
The Welsh Government is supporting the project with £22.5m, but it will take a 50% shareholding.
It would be the largest centre of its kind in Wales and south west England.
A joint venture company will build and manage the venue – which will include an exhibition hall – as an equal partnership between the Celtic Manor and the Welsh Government.
First Minister Carwyn Jones was among invited guests for the ceremony, four years after the plans were first unveiled.
“This is a venue which can be used at any time – especially tailored for trade shows, big professional congresses, events which we were not able to attract before,” he said.
“This is a joint venture, it can create revenue for the government as well as for a private investor. I take the view that government works best when it works with private investors to deliver a project, there’s then a benefit for the tax-payer.”
Sir Terry Matthews, owner of the Celtic Manor Resort, urged hospitality and leisure businesses in Newport and Cardiff to embrace its potential, with up to 5,000 delegates a day.
Ian Edwards, chief executive of ICC Wales, said it would “change the landscape” of the conference industry in Wales and bring business that the nation had not seen before.
He said Wales only had a £350m share of a £22bn meetings industry market in the UK currently.
The centre, off the M4, is expected to create 250 jobs.
The Welsh Government financing also includes a grant of £165,000 and £1.63m in loans, matched by the private sector.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Welsh Government said: “The guaranteed maximum price building contract is £63.6m, other development packages including the building fit-out bring the total cost to £83.7m.
“The building work is scheduled to be completed mid 2019, followed by final fit-out and test events, prior to the formal launch later that year.”
Newport’s proposals trumped Cardiff’s own attempts to get a convention centre off the ground.
However, hoteliers in the capital are also expected to benefit to some degree from the venture with new business – although they will now face competition from Bristol.
Ben Underwood, chairman of Cardiff Hoteliers Association, said: “We’ll work together in the same way we did for the speedway and the Champions League to ensure that the ICC can utilise Cardiff and be confident we’ll be priced correctly and be very hospitable to guests flying in.”
What is ICC Wales up against?
There have been calls for some years for Wales to have a convention centre to compete with other nations and regions for conferences and big events. Those elsewhere in the UK are a mix of public and privately-owned centres. Here are some of the biggest:
- ICC Birmingham: Cost: £200m; opened in 1991, part of the NEC group, 10 meeting rooms and 10 conference halls, one can accommodate 3,000 delegates. 60,000 visitors each week. Top event: Hosted the G8 Summit in 1998, including Bill Clinton.
- ACC Liverpool: Cost: £164m; opened in 2008; Liverpool city council is the sole shareholder. Includes 1,350-capacity auditorium, 7,500-seat arena and exhibition centre and hotel. 11,600 visitors a week. Top event: Two Labour Party conferences.
- ExCeL London docklands: Cost £560m: opened in 2000. Owned by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (Adnec), Includes International Convention Centre, nearly half a million sq ft of space; eight hotels and a cable car link with The O2 arena. 20m visitors by 2014. Top event: G20 summit in 2009.
- Manchester Central: Cost: £30m renovation of former G-Mex centre and historic railway station. Re-opened 2008. Owned by Manchester City Council. Includes 804-seat auditorium, 9,000-capacity central hall and 1,800 sq m exhibition space, conference. Top events: X-Factor finals and political party conferences.
- EICC, Edinburgh: Cost: £85m when extended in 2013. Opened 1995. Owned by City of Edinburgh Council. Includes 2,000-capacity arena and two other 1,200-capacity auditoriums. 1.3m delegates since opening. Top event: Commonwealth heads of government meeting in 1997.
- BIC, Bournemouth: Cost: £19.5m. Opened 1984. Owned by Bournemouth Council and operated by BH Live, which runs 30 leisure and event venues in the south of England. Four halls for concerts, conferences and exhibitions. 118,000 delegates a year. Top events: From political conferences to Lady Gaga.