First look inside £365m Co-op Live - Europe's biggest indoor arena

It’s been quite the year for Manchester. In the last 12 months, the city has welcomed the arrival of Aviva Studios, played host to the Michelin Guide and seen its most historic streets transformed in the name of fashion as Parisian fashion house Chanel came to town.

Today, it takes another step forward as Co-op Live, a multi million pound entertainment venue officially opens its doors. A cavernous black box sitting next to Manchester City’s football ground, it is not only the city’s biggest arena, but Europe’s too.

With a capacity of 23,500 it is positioning itself as one of the UK’s most significant gig venues, looking to attract both homegrown and international talent. Tonight, a test event with Rick Astley takes place as thousands of fans take their first steps in the venue.

READ MORE: Co-op Live is finally about to open... but what does it mean for its neighbours?

Its first official gig will be delivered by Bolton-born comedian Peter Kay on Tuesday evening (April 23), while its first musical performance will be served by The Black Keys next Saturday. Co-op Lives opening season will see performances from the likes of Liam Gallagher, Olivia Rodrigo, Eric Clapton and Eagles, while come November, the MTV Europe Awards, which celebrates the globe’s biggest musicians, will be held in the new arena.

The large-scale arena has been built by BAM Construct UK and is a joint venture between Oak View Group (OVG), co-founded by music mogul Irving Azoff, and City Football Group. As well as backing and investment from pop superstar Harry Styles, concert promoters Simon Moran and Denis Desmond were also linked last year, as were SJM holdings.

To bring it all together required thousands of workers in the run up to the test events, as finishing touches were put on the state-of-the-art venue which boasts a unique bowl design. Speaking about preparations just a couple of weeks ago, general manager Gary Roden explained that more than 1,500 workers had been on site in the days leading up to the test events.

“We’ve had a huge support system from Oak View who have come over, people that have opened up some of the world’s most modern arenas in the world, and one weekend we trained over 800 people, plus another 800 before opening, with onboarding including over 2,000 casual staff,” he said.

On its determination to create a workforce drawn from Greater Manchester, he adds: "We wanted to make sure that absolutely every person in the local area knew there were jobs available and that they could develop their careers with us.

“We’ve made really bold promises that we have to keep and our advertising was aimed at that in terms of jobs. We do have a workforce that will reflect Greater Manchester so 85% are within five miles of the venue, and 45% within two miles."

What sets it apart from other venues, according to Co-op Live’s opening team, is its ‘music-first’ philosophy. In layman's terms this means the arena boasts the largest floor space of any indoor venue, tiered seating that brings fans closer to the artists and space for just over 9,000 standing gig-goers.

Cutting edge visual technology, ‘exceptional’ acoustics and an innovative sound bowl design mean the best show can be delivered to audiences wherever they experience the gig within the venue.

"First and foremost, it's about the experience the act has with their fans that we're prioritising. Artists care incredibly about their fans, and due to social media that connection has never been stronger, so our focus is on enhancing that.

"We have eight loading bays, can have eight trucks and can turn shows around quicker for the artists, we do need a day either side, which is why we can get a higher volume of shows. And in terms of the artist experience we've heavily invested here, so there's 12 dressing rooms which are like the plushest hotel rooms you have ever been in and they're not sterile, white box spaces.

"There's also an artist gym and bar they can use, plus all sorts of facilities that make the artist feel as welcome as possible and have an amazing time. It's also about the promoters are comfortable too so we have a state-of-the-art gantry too, which means we can rig the show in half the time in a standard arena. When artists are on tour, we want to be the venue they come to."

Beyond this, guests can choose from 32 restaurants and bars before and during the concerts, while a series of premium and VIP spaces will ensure the party goes on long after final curtains.

Of its lounges and VIP areas are the Seat Unique Deck Suite which seats 45 and provides exclusive access to the VIP lounge before and after the show, prime views of the stage and a designated bar and dance floor. There’s also the Ciroc Lounge, Gallery Suites and the AMP Club open to members and providing post-show access to the Atrium Club on level 2.

Meanwhile, the heart of the venue will be The Street, which boasts a 22 metre-long bar and vibrant food markets. This will be open to general admission and can be accessed on level 0.

It's walking route is also a major source of pride. Earlier this year, plans were unveiled to transform the walking route between the Etihad Stadium and Manchester City Centre with interactive elements, food and drink stalls and added security.

Inside the huge new indoor arena
Inside the huge new indoor arena

The Plans have seen a a 'significant' upgrade to the existing 'CityLink' between Holt Town tram stop and the Etihad Campus. The route was originally built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and has now been upgraded to create a 'vibrant' pre-event experience, and for those making use of the walkway there are interactive lighting installations, busking spots for performances by local musical talent and a pop-up food and drink offer.

Manchester is now home to the UK's largest entertainment venues and there remains a healthy amount of competition between the both. Upping the stakes, The AO Arena recently unveiled its £50m renovation and expanded its own capacity from 21,000 to 23,000, but it also raised issues with Co-op Live's application for a late-night licence.

“From our perspective, we’ve build a venue that can hold people for a little while longer after the show so it’s never been about keeping 20,000 people at the Etihad campus until 2am," says Gary. "The show kicks around at 10.30pm, but people in premium areas or a select few in general admission can stay and use our great spaces and they will leave over a staggered period of two and a half hours.

“Longer term it is about working with Manchester City on their their plans including the hotel and conferencing facilities, and they’ve talked very openly about wanting to develop the entertainment campus and we will longer term become part of that entertainment campus vision, which is 3-5 years in the future."

"We chose Manchester because it has one of the best legacies of any city in the entire world. Tim was very clear from Oak View that his first international venture would be Manchester. It has the ability to be a top five music market in the world and the way the city is evolving and scaling up, in terms of its hospitality and entertainment, it was the obvious place for us to put this brand new state-of-the-art arena.

"We've not put this venue here to compete with Manchester, we've put it here to compete with Europe and beyond. It will revolutionise what is going on in the UK entrainment scene and what it is like to go to a gig as a fan."