ABERDEEN City Council’s Labour-led administration today announced plans for a £200 million replacement for the city’s loss making Exhibition and Conference Centre.
They claimed the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) , which plays host to Europe’s biggest oil and gas showcase every two years, is no longer fit for purpose.
But administration leaders also warned that the ambitious scheme may only go ahead if the council gets funding support from the Scottish Government, in line with the cash aid already given to the major conference and concert venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Councillor Willie Young, the council’s finance convener, said the administration was poised to bring forward plans to either redevelop the AECC at its current site at the Bridge of Don or to build a new conference and concert venue at another site in the city.
He claimed the council-owned AECC, which opened in 1985, was now “past its sell by date.” And he continued: “The Offshore Europe exhibition is getting bigger and bigger and we need to reflect upon that. What we have got is an AECC at the minute that is not fit for purpose.
“We either run it down and we don’t have economic development within the city or we upgrade the facility. We are considering whether to go ahead with an upgrade of the AECC or build a new AECC elsewhere.
“We are putting a plan together to ensure that the scheme is sustainable but we are also calling on the Scottish Government to help us out because they heavily subsidise the Edinburgh conference centre and the SECC. And if they are really serious about oil and gas they need to jump in and help the oil capital of Europe. They need to help us carry these plans forward.”
Councillor Young explained: “We would want to get the Government to enter into some form of partnership with us or at least support us through a TIF (tax incremental finance) scheme.”
He pointed out that the Norwegian Government was already investing heavily in a new exhibition centre in Bergen and substantial new investment was also being made at the major oil conference and exhibition venue in Houston, Texas.
Councillor Young said: “The Government needs to step up to the plate. The more we get from the Government, the less risk there is for the council. We need mitigate the risk to the council taxpayer.”
He stressed that a new conference venue was also required to attract top rock and pop acts to the city as well as cater for the growing popularity of the biennial oil and gas showcase.
Councillor Young added: “This is about attracting more exhibitions and conferences to the North east of Scotland. We are catering for almost 500,000 people and we are not really fulfilling our potential. There is no reason why cannot get the likes of Lady Gaga and other major acts but they they are not coming to Aberdeen at the moment because the venue is too little.”
He said: “Over the next 12 months, the selected development partner will bring forward the design to the final stage, undertake the master planning process, submit the planning application and secure the development’s financial investment.”
Last year, loans of £26.2 million owed by the conference centre, were written off by the council in order to give the AECC a “firmer financial footing.”
Councillor Young said: “The AECC is losing a wee bit of money but it gets less of a grant from us now. The business has been turned right round now and the losses have reduced considerably. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, it is going to make money this year - I suspect. It will be in profit this year.”
Earlier this year the AECC announced a new ten year deal with the leading North Sea service company GE Oil & Gas to be the arena’s new sponsor.