The vibe in recent months suggests that confidence is beginning to return to Aberdeen and the north east, after the challenges presented by the oil downturn over the past couple of years.
Scottish Enterprise has just announced an £11.7 million investment into the £350m Aberdeen Harbour expansion project, and industry body Oil & Gas UK said the country’s oil and gas industry is now in better shape to compete for investment than at any time since the downturn. Property firm Knight Frank is predicting a stronger year for the Aberdeen commercial property sector, and there are signs that the city’s housing market is in slow recovery, with the first quarter of 2017 seeing the first increase in sales volume in a long time.
Then of course, there’s the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, a £333 million project being developed by Henry Boot Developments for Aberdeen City Council. Our contractor Robertson Construction is currently on site at Bucksburn building this huge new facility, which is due to open in 2019.
As well as a new arena and conference halls, the project will also include Hilton and Aloft hotels, and an on-site energy centre that will supply the buildings via a district heating and cooling system.
The new AECC is a clear statement by Aberdeen City Council that Aberdeen is open for business. It will provide four times the current exhibition space of the current facility and increase the maximum capacity of the arena from 4,750 people to 12,500.
This will allow it to attract big names in entertainment to the city who could not previously have been accommodated. It will also help Aberdeen compete with other cities for major conferences and events, not just in the UK but internationally too.
The new facility is an important part of Aberdeen City Council’s plan to grow the city’s economy. It is expected to bring in an additional 4.5 million visitors, £113 million of visitor spend and £63m net GVA to the Scottish economy annually. It will also create 352 full-time-equivalent permanent positions by year 10 of operations, and over 600 jobs at the peak of the construction period. We’re approximately one third of the way through the construction project, and already there are more than 500 workers on site.
The value of a world-class music venue to a city can’t be overemphasised. Recent figures from UK Music, the umbrella organisation which represents the interests of the production side of the UK’s commercial music industry, show that live music events contribute £4bn to the UK economy annually. In the past year, the number of people going to live gigs grew by 12% to a record 30.9 million. What’s more, 40% of the audiences are music tourists – people travelling from elsewhere in the UK or abroad, bringing their money with them and spending it in hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. The new AECC arena will have a capacity similar to the Hydro in Glasgow, making it far more likely that Aberdeen will bring in the big names and get a bigger slice of this music tourism pie.
Look at what the Hydro has done for Glasgow. Now a seemingly permanent fixture near the top of the charts for the busiest and best arenas in the world, in 2015/16 it boosted the number of visitors to the Scottish Event Campus (previously known as the SECC) to about 1.8 million, with the net additional economic impact in the Glasgow area estimated to be £354 million.
The “Hydro Halo” – the positive economic effect the new venue has had on its immediate surroundings – has meant the area of Finnieston has become the “go-to” place in Glasgow, with business in bars and restaurants booming and new ones opening all the time, due to the sheer demand for pre and post-gig meals and drinks.
And while music tourism is valuable, there’s also the benefits that large-scale business events can bring. Offshore Europe, one of the largest oil and gas events in the world, is held every second year in Aberdeen, attracting around 50,000 attendees from more than 100 countries. When the new AECC opens, it will host this vital event – that’s a lot of people spreading the word about Aberdeen’s fantastic new conference venue.
There are exciting times ahead in Aberdeen as optimism returns to the city, and I am looking forward to the new AECC playing its part in that.
Nick Harris, Scottish Director of Henry Boot Developments