Back in November 2013, a prestigious panel chaired by TV producer Phil Redmond announced that Kingston upon Hull was its unanimous choice as the UK’s 2017 City of Culture, having put forward “the most compelling case based on its theme as a ‘city coming out of the shadows’”.
Hull’s bid focused strongly on regeneration and legacy, as well as the events throughout its year-long tenure of the title. And a cornerstone of that legacy is the Bonus Arena: a 3,500 capacity venue in the very heart of the port city.
Detailed feasibility studies and market testing showed that the facility likely attract an extra £13.5 million into Hull's economy every year. The opening of the Arena has created around 30 full-time jobs, with another 100-150 people working there on event days.
Having won the tender to build the new arena in late 2015, BAM was faced with a series of complex issues to overcome. Firstly, the site was only partly owned by the customer – Hull City Council – and negotiations over the remaining land proved more challenging than expected.
Then BAM had to contend with a series of redundant buildings on the site, which needed to be painstakingly demolished. Some of these old buildings had partially collapsed, others had been on fire. BAM also had to deal with dead wildlife, discarded needles from drug users and significant amounts of asbestos in their order to make the site safe.
The original plans for the arena had included refurbishing an existing multi-storey car park. But when BAM got involved in the project it soon became clear that this was impractical. The BAM team came up with a design and a business case to completely rebuild the car park, which Hull City Council accepted.
However this decision, as well as issues around the removal of a telecoms mast on the old car park, had an inevitable knock-on effect on the construction schedule. It was clear to both the Council and BAM that the new arena would not be finished during the 2017 City of Culture year. A revised completion date was jointly agreed for June 2018… and the BAM team successfully achieved this newly agreed deadline without a further day’s delay.
To address all these complexities, the BAM team carried out a significant amount of value-engineering work early on in the project. Their hard work paid off, as the project was not only delivered within the Council’s original budget but also maintained the high levels of quality required for such a prestigious landmark.
Distinctive shape, colour and sound
The most noticeable feature of the Arena is the massive rounded, mustard yellow bullnose structure that rears dramatically above the glazed entrance. The steel frame for this element of the building was one of the biggest challenges for BAM, as it has to support the weight of the precast seating in the upper tiers of the venue.
As with previous entertainment venue projects – such as the First Direct Arena in Leeds – getting the acoustics just right at the Hull arena was also one of the BAM team’s key concerns.
It’s not only about the internal sound quality of the auditorium for visiting acts, but how much noise escapes from the venue when a thrash metal band is pounding out hits at full volume! So BAM scheduled in several weeks between completing the building and handing it over to the Council, to test and tweak the acoustics.
Jobs for the community
Using local labour was a particularly important aspect of the project, given the high levels of unemployment in the area. BAM worked closely with its supply chain to achieve this, even though some of its trusted suppliers came from a slightly wider geographic area encompassing Leeds and Sheffield.
Ultimately, around 65% of the people who worked on the project came from Hull postcodes. BAM also created six apprenticeships as part of the project and is continuing to support one of the former apprentices by employing him and helping him through further studies.