Hull Bonus Arena inspires local pride
The construction of a new Arena in Hull is bringing big artists and conferences to the UK city for the first time. Paul Milligan visited the site to see how it was all put together.
“Some people think Hull is just the place where the M62 motorway ends.”
The UK city, situated in East Yorkshire, may not enjoy the most exciting of reputations, as that quote from Sam Ryder highlights, but since Hull was awarded the UK City of Culture in 2017 things have changed.
That award, dubbed ‘a city coming out of the shadows’, and the opening of the new 3,500-capacity Hull Bonus Area, of which Ryder is the operations manager, has helped cement a new pride in the city. The Arena (Bonus is the name of a local electrics supplier with naming rights to the venue) opened on August 30 with a gig from legendary singer Van Morrison, and has been busy ever since. “It’s been a rollercoaster few months, and a real experience getting everything together,” admits Ryder.
“One thing that has surprised me is just how many people have said they were proud to have this in their city, people have redeveloped a pride in Hull.” So far alongside Van Morrison the arena has hosted gigs by 80s icon Rick Astley and guitar hero Jack White, been home to a snooker tournament and a cheese festival, and hosted a dinner for 450 people, with entertainment afterwards. The Beach Boys are one of many acts booked in already for 2019.
The arena cost £36 million, with funding supplied by the local council. It is being managed by the experienced SMG Group, which owns 11 other venues across the UK and Europe. Previously Hull, a city with a population of 285,000, only had the 1,500-capacity City Hall to host events which severely limited options for music promoters and conference organisers, and meant the city would often lose out to competition from venues in Leeds and Sheffield.
The new build project was designed and built by Bam Construct, and it’s here that local integrators Nuway Audio Visual enter the equation. Having worked with BAM and Hull City Council before on several large scale leisure and education projects in the area it was the natural choice to work on this installation. “When BAM became the main contractor there was a void for the AV elements of the project, so they came to us with a blank canvas. They needed AV, lighting, Wi-Fi and IPTV,” says Danny Hird, general manager, Nuway. “They were all very keen for the project to evolve, rather than being a fixed specification because nobody really knew what they wanted.” This freedom of design freedom can be a double-edge sword however as Hird explains; “Having no initial plan gave us a lot of creativity, and it means we can do things right, but it also means if there is an issue it always comes back to you. We all had to come together (BAM, SMG, Hull City Council and Nuway) to develop a design that met budget and SMG’s specifications.”
As you would expect from a concert and conference venue of this size, audio provides the backbone, but this wasn’t always the case, as Hird explains. “The audio was initially overlooked whilst the focus was on designing the building, it was more of an afterthought. The initial brief was for no audio in the auditorium, because it was going to be used for touring bands that would always bring their own equipment. It completely evolved, we advised them not all artists would have their own equipment, so they were potentially eliminating a chunk of events they could hold (comedians, theatrical performances etc). That was a huge change in the project.” Three high-end audio brands were shortlisted by Nuway, and Hird and Ryder were both present at a shoot-out held at a nearby venue whilst the arena was being built. The relatively small size of the system they ended up with, by d&b audiotechnik, took both by surprise. “We started off with a large PA system with subs and everything,” says Hird. “When we did the shoot-out, d&b took away the subs and played it without, and that is where we realised we could make a big cost saving but not having the subs. It was a big cost saving while at the same time giving us the performance we need for speech, theatre, presentations, conferences etc.”
Ryder has been surprised by the efficiency and power of the PA system, “It’s fairly small and compact. You look at just 12 boxes of the y series and think ‘what is that going to do?’ but as a vocal reinforcement PA it’s been great. Beyond that some acts have come in and only needed to add a couple of subs and been absolutely fine.” All audio is networked via an Atterotech Dante interface, and runs through QSC and Symetrix DSPs, with a mix of Sennheiser and Shure mics, and Extron amps
The client brief to Nuway was informed by the fact that the arena was to be an equal home to conferences/AGMs etc than for rock and roll concerts. The main arena has a capacity of 2,900, but the upper auditorium can be used separately (via a dividing wall) as a venue for 880 people. The arena also has two VIP areas, which can each be divided into two. These spaces double up as breakout rooms for conferences. Flexibility is the key word for Ryder and his team of eight, but providing that can often be a headache for the integrator admits Hird. “We try and advise on the best room orientations to be able to have flexible capabilities. The architecture is as important as the technology to achieve it. If everyone is facing in one direction for one event, but for the next one they are facing a different way, does the AV still work?”
This demand for flexibility was based on a desire to run different types of events. “They wanted to link both rooms together,” adds Hird. “So one room could be separated off as a standalone venue or remove the wall and it becomes a part of whole room. Flexibility is really key to the whole building. The VIP rooms needed to be linked together. We can send the audio and video from the main auditorium to the VIP rooms. All video is embedded onto the network, all of the audio is Dante, so we can route anything that is happening in either of these areas to the VIP rooms.
As already mentioned, the venue has dual usage, with conferencing supplying a large revenue stream back to the city council. “We are now the biggest conferencing space in East Yorkshire,” says Ryder. “We have the facilities with the upper auditorium to do an AGM for 880 people upstairs, and then feed them all downstairs, around tables, with entertainment. We don’t have to do a room change, or kick people out of the room for 30 minutes etc. We can do an expo downstairs, with breakout space upstairs for keynote speakers, without disturbing the rest of the project. Conferencing is a huge part of our business plan. The amount of potential the venue has as a multi-purpose, multi-function space is huge, and that’s where what Nuway AV has brought in has really helped us. The systems are really easy to use, so we are not in a situation where we have to have one technician per room, and the cost associated with that, people can come in, press a button and go. People expect instant functionality these days, and that is what we have got, we call it ‘press and go conferencing’”.
The technology for the VIP lounges/breakout spaces has to serve both purposes, so has to be flexible. Crestron DigitalMedia provides the control backbone for all the AV, with a selection of different sized Panasonic 24/7 LCD displays provide all the digital signage, run on an Exterity platform, which also provides the power behind the IPTV system. Nuway chose Barco Clickshare because it provides wireless presentation capabilities but also access to (a firewall free) internet for its users. Each room features Panasonic laser projection onto a whiteboard for presentation, flanked by Community loudspeakers. If the presenter wishes to use a lectern rather than present on a board there are JM Supplies lecterns (with simple to use control panels) at their disposal too. “Everything we have here has 2-3 uses, no venue can run now without that flexibility, the venues that are going out of business are the ones that can’t adapt,” adds Ryder. OneLan panels outside each breakout space provides an instant visual reminder of the occupancy status.
The relationship between client and integrator has been another benefit of this project says Ryder, “Throughout this project, despite my many demands on them, and various changes in budgets, and left turns and right turns along the way, Nuway has always been supportive and helpful, they have been prompt with bringing back quotes, and bringing back new ideas. It’s great when you ask a supplier to go back and think again and then actually come back with something great.”
Ampetronic D14-2 Class D Phased Array Induction Loop Systems
Atterotech unDIO2x2 Dante Interface
Community DS5 Wall Mount Loudspeakers, D6 Ceiling Loudspeaker
d&b E5, E6, Yi8, Yi12, 10S-D loudspeakers, 10D Amplifier, MAX2 Stage Monitor
Extron XPA-1002-100v 100v Loudspeaker Amplifier
QSC QSYS 500i DSP
Sennheiser EW335, EW312, EW322, EW335 microphones
Shure SM58-LCE, SM57, DMK57-52, MX418/N, R158B microphones
Symetrix 12x8EX DSP
Williams Sound WIR TX90 IR Assisted Hearing System Emitter, WIR RX22-4N IR Bodypack Receiver
Yamaha LS9-32 Mixing Desk, TIO1608D Digital Stage Box
Barco CSE-200 Clickshare
Crestron TSW-760 7-in Touchscreen, DM-MD8x8 Scaling Matrix Switch
ETC Portable 7 button keypad, CS40AV Lighting Control Console
Exterity AVPLY-R9300-099 digital signage/IPTV receiver
Extron Crosspoint 84 Scaling Presentation Switcher, DTP HDMI 230 Rx HDMI over Cat6 Receiver
JM Supplies Delta 1200-15U Presentation Lectern, Falcon Lectern
OneLan ROOM-10T-POE Reserva Room Booking Panel
Panasonic TH-49LF8W, TH-42LF8W, TH-55LF8W, TH-75EF1 75 displays, PT-RZ570, PT-RZ970 laser projectors
Paradigm Arch Control Processor, 7-in Portable Touchscreen
Screen International Compact 250 Electric Projector Screen