There is already strong interest globally from senior executives wanting to bring conferences to the £83m International Convention Centre Wales (ICC Wales), said Sir Terry Matthews.
A groundbreaking ceremony marking the formal start of construction work on ICC Wales, which is being delivered via a joint venture company between the Celtic Manor Resort and the Welsh Government, was staged today.
Located on land at the existing Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, which is owned by Newport-born telecommunications billionaire Sir Terry, what will be the biggest convention centre ever built in Wales and the west of England, will open in July 2019.
It will provide/have:
- Provide 26,000 square metres of floor space.
- A 1,500 seat auditorium.
- Accommodate 5,000 conference delegates.
- A separate exhibition hall providing the largest pillar-free ballroom in Europe, capable of hosting a gala dinner for 2,400 people.
- Five divisible meeting rooms that will create a further 12 flexible spaces.
- Breakouts at all levels to outdoor networking spaces.
- Sate-of-the-art technology with fully integrated audio visual facilities.
- 2,500 sq mt plaza that will welcome visitors and provide additional networking and exhibition space.
- 600 underground car parking spaces with direct access to the ICC Wales.
The project has already secured its first conference with the Hospitality Catering Expo in July 2019 – which will also be held next year at the Celtic Manor’s existing convention centre.
Earlier this month the ICC Wales team were present at one of the world’s biggest events for the hospitality and conference sector, the Meetings Show at Olympia in London.
Sir Terry said: “The long list of interested parties from the Meetings Show is very, very encouaraging. We were surprised by the extent of interest. And it has come from senior executives all over the world, including Northern America.
“And I have been contacted by senior people in the tech sector, and I am talking large tech and service provider companies in North America who I am friendly with and I have known for years, about ICC Wales.
“Many have visited the Celtic Manor and have brought their kids here too. And their children love coming here because we have castles and dungeons nearby and the Roman remains at Caerleon… and you don’t get any castles in Seattle or New York.
“They have a great time and this family side of things really helps people to make decisions.
On the encouraging interest he added: “It’s also because we are in a great well connected location [motorway links to London and the Midlands] and we have 2,000 acres of land and four great golf courses.”
NatWest is providing a loan facility of £51.5m to the joint venture company to fund the project. The rest of the funding, which will also improve road access into the resort and ICC Wales, is repayable finance at commercial lending rates, from the Welsh Government.
Sir Terry said the existing Celtic Manor, with its 650 bedrooms, had reached saturation point with an average occupancy rate of 95% through the week and 100% at weekends.
“I can’t even stay here on weekends, but luckily I can stay with my sister who lives nearby,” said Sir Terry.
He said with ICC Wales expected to attract hundreds of thousands of delegate goers each year, it would provide a huge opportunity, not just for other hotels across south Wales, but for the wider regional economy.
Sir Terry added:”So what people have to understand is this is [ICC Wales] additional to the Celtic Manor, as we are full. ICC Wales will be a magnet for new jobs not just in Newport, but across south Wales. And you have to remember that conferences and exhibitions are labour intensive.”
He added: “It will be a game-changer for the country on the international business events scene. For far too long, Wales has not had the share of this lucrative market that the country deserves.
“This is going to change. I’m positive that we have begun a new era in staging major events in Wales and our new state-of-the-art convention centre will continue that momentum for decades to come.
“It’s an incredibly proud moment for me to see this amazing project start to come to life and I pay tribute to the leadership of our partners in both public and private sectors who have helped to make this dream a reality.”
First Minister Carwyn Jones said the project, in which the Welsh Government would share in profits generated, was another positive example of public and private sector collaboration, which he said was also working well in the creative industries sector.
He added: “ICC Wales s is vital to fulfilling our ambition of making Wales a leading international destination for business. In order to compete in a highly competitive international market, Wales needs a convention centre of this quality and size.
“A world-class venue such as this will allow us to capitalise on Wales’ growing reputation as a destination for major events. The Celtic Manor has already demonstrated its ability to host global events and I’m confident our partnership with them on this project will deliver significant economic benefits for Wales.”