“The completion of this new complex is a real game-changer for Aberdeen and its surrounding catchment area – indeed, the whole of Scotland,” opens Louise Stewart, head of entertainment, exhibitions and marketing at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA). The evidence for such a bold statement is all around us as we chat in the expansive foyer area of this brand new, state-of-the-art building. A children’s activity day is just winding up in a hall near us where families have been enjoying a day out, including exploring the inside of a truck and a helicopter. In an adjacent venue, a dinner and dance gala evening is just getting under way with live entertainment, hosted by Vernon Kay, while across the foyer is the entrance to the Arena. With a standing capacity of 15,000, this expansive room is preparing to host the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY).

Since the venue opened just a few months ago in September, the investment and commitment made by Aberdeen City Council to build such an extensive and ambitious complex has been proven again and again. Situated adjacent to Aberdeen Airport and with excellent road and rail connections, TECA, which incorporates the P&J Live Arena, is indeed a game-changer on every front. Architecturally dramatic and imposing, the main building includes a four-star hotel and restaurant with other hotels across the piazza, and with retail spaces planned as part of the overall development. Running at £333m, this is the UK’s single largest investment of its kind and is evidence, if any was needed, of Aberdeen City Council’s vision to look beyond the oil and gas industries that have brought wealth and prosperity to the region, to a future infrastructure that will attract new business and develop the city’s cosmopolitan appeal.

The event complex was originally planned as a replacement for the much-loved (or not, depending on your particular touring experience) Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC), but the reality is that the development is so much more than a simple replacement or even just an improvement. Notwithstanding the 9,000sq.m Arena, the Baker Hughes Exhibition and Conference Hub multi-purpose event space within the venue offers an unrivalled platform for clients. While the exterior architecture was designed by the renowned Keppie architects from Glasgow, the interior spaces and the necessary technical installation choices were made by the venue team itself.
Heading that team is managing director, Nick Waight who comes with an impressive CV, having occupied the director’s chair at the NEC Group and the CEO spot at the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD). He comments: “The City Council recognised that, in order to diversify and
build the economy for a post gas and oil future, a world-class facility was needed to attract business and investment in the region; this is the single biggest investment in the UK to date. P&J Live is operated by ASM Global who, of course, knows all about running an arena of this calibre. Apart from power, rigging and drapery infrastructure, essentially the Arena is left as a blank canvas, but we opted to make a different choice for the rest of the building.”

The rest of the building comprises an impressive 6,000sq.m of space on the ground floor, which is flexibly split into three halls but can be combined with the Arena floorspace if required. Hall C has a banqueting capacity for 1,250 guests, but all the spaces are able to accommodate everything from the largest-scale tradeshows to more intimate events. Up on the first floor, there are a series of conference suites, adaptable in size and capacity, and to complete the picture is a subterranean space of over 30,000sq.m that is available when additional floorspace is required.

Waight continues: “With the support of the investors, we made the decision to provide a world-class service to our customers by installing a truly premier technical installation of lights, video, projection and audio. Our decision to offer clients a full-production in-house system without cutting budgetary corners could have been viewed as a strategy with some risk, but the decision was based on many years of experience in other complexes across the UK, and the City Council was really supportive.”

To that end, A.C. Entertainment Technologies (AC-ET) was engaged to supply P&J Live with a dizzying amount of kit and brands over the summer of 2019. With over 11,400 items on the list, this was one of the largest single client orders that AC-ET had ever received.
“AC-ET was very flexible and responsive to our requests,” explains Waight. “With a project of this size and complexity, open discussion and close partnership are vital to the successful delivery of the job and they more than delivered on that score and in every other way possible.”
Jonathan Walters (aka Jono) is AC-ET’s UK sales and purchasing director. He comments: “Although there was an existing relationship between AC-ET and the P&J Live technical team, this project took it to whole new level. The dialogue was continuous, day-in and day-out, both in and out of office hours. As the project progressed in an organised and timely manner, I think that the mutual respect and trust between the two companies grew stronger and stronger until handover day.”

As soon as we arrived on site, we met up with the other key lynchpin in the supply and installation process, deputy operational technical manager at P&J Live, Steve Morrison. Morrison’s passion and commitment to the complex has clearly been an important cog in the multitude of wheels that has driven this project; there is no corner of P&J Live that he is not intimately familiar with, nor a single piece of equipment in the array of hall, conference and meeting rooms that he cannot locate immediately.

His MD Waight rightly recognises his worth: “Like many of the team here, Steve is a stalwart from the old AECC and could see that this was a one-time opportunity to establish a venue that offered a premier production service to its clients and the long term benefits that would bring to the whole region.

As a team, we certainly had to fight our corner to make our technical wish list fit with the budget. Steve’s relationship with AC-ET and Mike Docksey along with his vision and commitment has helped drive the project in the right direction. I don’t believe there is another venue in the UK that has kit of this range and quality.”

“When we were considering our fixture choices, it was a case of investing appropriately to make long-terms gains,” says Morrison. “We looked at the old venue and thought about what worked there, what was cumbersome and inefficient and what our client base would be looking for. Top quality AV provision is probably at the top of the must-have list. Everything requires a screen these days – from the smallest meeting room, to our largest halls. We have a range of 15 Panasonic projectors in touring and stackable flying frames so that they can be moved around the venue. The largest of these, the DZ21K, would normally be in the bigger Hall C, but they can be used anywhere. There are also a multitude of lenses so they can be used as long- or short-throw depending on the orientation of the room. They are a major attraction for conference clients.”

“We chose Draper for our screens,” he continues. “Recognised as a leading industry brand, here at P&J Live we like the fact they are entirely modular and lexible, so being able to create almost any required screen size, along with their robust quality construction, provides
a longevity despite constant use. Our largest screen size is 11.5m x 4m. This is a very large custom screen and was produced to order by Draper for us.”

“Green Hippo’s Hippotizer Karst+ was our preferred media server and Analog Way provides the video switching processor. These are in individual racks enabling deployment wherever required.”

On our visit day, they were both on the control gallery working together to manage the whole of the video content playback and live camera feeds for the gala dinner event that evening…

Read the full article here

The article is reproduced courtesy of Lighting & Sound International / writer Kate Lyon. The full LSi February 2020 magazine can be viewed/downloaded here: https://www.lsionline.com/magazine

A.C. Entertainment Technologies is the exclusive distributor of Hippotizer Media Servers in the UK. Sister company, AC-ET Ireland handles distribution for the Republic of Ireland.

Image Credit: The Press and Journal Gala Dinner 2019. © DC Thomson.