So it's probably a heresy to suggest that an Arena isn't really all that vital. Except as a means of getting elected, anyway.
I admit that I'm unlikely to be a regular patron of a new Arena. I've just taken a look at the shows, and the kind of prices charged at Newcastle and Nottingham, and I know that if I lived in either of those cities I'd not be at the front of the queue for the hugely expensive tickets. Arenas are a stage for the most popular entertainers, the most expensive productions, and they have to be big enough to pull in crowds from far afield on a scale that will pay the bills and still deliver a profit. Me, I seem to get more out of smaller scale, and more original entertainment, so that will still get my custom.
It's clear, though, that an Arena visit to see a favourite entertainer is something special, whatever the price at the gate. That's why existing Arenas do bring in the crowds from far and wide. It's why Bristolians are prepared to travel over to Cardiff (not far) or up to London (maybe with an overnight stay) for a big event. Given the ticket prices, the travel is a minor cost – and arguably it adds to making the occasion special.
I'm guessing.... but if I was in the business of running an Arena, I'd be taking a very cautious look at the potential market in Bristol before I leapt in. That's why, reportedly, the SWRDA's plans fell through two or three years back. The developers just weren't interested, the sums didn't add up. If that was true then, it's hard to believe that things are any different now. Unless there are inducements.
The preferred Arena site is still the diesel depot site alongside Temple Meads. Now part of the Enterprise Zone, it's hemmed in by the A4 on one side, the tidal Avon on the other, without any public access. A bridge is to be built across the river from Cattle Market Road to allow first the construction access, and, later, the customers. Potentially, there's access from the Temple Meads platforms too.
As the site has already been given privileged planning freedoms, it's most unlikely that the elected council, or the mayor, will play much part in getting development kick-started. Of course, that won't stop them queueing up to be associated with any progress on the site.
Yesterday the Post published astory on the lines that (a) part of the site is being temporarily gifted to the Severn Project – an established food growing project that gives therapeutic training to people recovering from drug dependency, and that (b) we won't get an Arena tomorrow. The linking of these two facts was clearly intentional, and the Post's usual website commentators, not bothering to check the detail of the article, predictably found it proved (yet again) that the council, drug users and vegetarians are to blame for the international humiliation of our city.
The only sure thing is that an Arena, even before it is built, will provide a stage for political actors to read the lines they think the audience wants to hear. Pity, that. There really are many more important things that should occupy the minds of would-be mayors.