By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter
The chief executive of Nottingham’s council-owned National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena has revealed the venue would have gone out of business without £7m of loans from city taxpayers.
Martin Ingham has described how the “dark days” of the pandemic meant the venue had to lay off more than 1,000 permanent and casual staff.
But in an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service Mr Ingham said the venue is bouncing back with sold-out shows and the busiest February, March, April, and May on record.
The Arena has a balance sheet deficit of £5.8m up to March 2022. It is also dealing with “a massive backlog of maintenance” which includes spending around £400,000 a year on repairs.
A statement of accounts filed with Companies House for the year ending March 2021 confirms the city council provided a loan of £7.4m, to be repaid over 15 years from 2023.
It also says the council set aside a further £1.5m for the Arena, if required.
Mr Ingham said: “There was some really dark days during Covid because we had to shut the venue down without any notice and laid off most of our staff.
“When you close a business overnight, your income stops immediately but costs don’t. Without the loan [from the city council] we would have gone.
“At the time, there was no Government funding. The council loan saved the business and there is a financial plan to pay it back.”
He said the venue will not be asking for any more loans from the city council and now plans to “rebuild.”
The Arena will increase its number of shows from around 130 to 180 a year. It has also diversified, to provide merchandise for the London 02 Arena and festivals such as Download and Latitude.
In addition, there are plans to attract more paying customers to Nottingham Panther ice hockey games, with £5 pints and meal deals.
The city council originally invested £16m into building the venue, which opened in 2000.
Mr Ingham says that by 2025 the 10,000-seat Arena will have generated an estimated £1bn for the local economy, creating business for local hotels, pubs, restaurants, shops and taxis.
“I think if you said to Birmingham, Manchester or the London boroughs that you would invest £16m and get £1bn return, most people would do it,” he said.
“We’ve put three million people on the ice – and we have kids who have watched the Nottingham Panthers that are now playing for the Panthers.
“We also want to grow the events business. There are going to be up-and-coming artists… we also need to do more comedy and family shows.”
Nottingham City Council currently has debts of around £900m and is actively selling off its assets.
But Mr Ingham said he sees no reason why the council would sell the Ice Centre and Arena.
He added: “We broke even last year and we were closed for half of that year. We will make profits this year. There is no reason why we should not be profitable going forward. We are a community asset.”