Melbourne Park was in the spotlight for the Australian Open over the next two weeks. But while the precinct is in the middle of a massive redevelopment, there was no construction work in sight obstructing punters’ view of the action.
The redevelopment currently consists of two stages, with the first stage complete and the second in its starting phase.
Stage one included a new public car park and building the National Tennis Centre; an elite training facility for up-and-coming tennis players including a gym, indoor and outdoor courts.
Melbourne & Olympic Parks’ Communications Specialist, Joe Fennessy says perhaps the most exciting part of stage one’s expansion was the redevelopment of the Western Precinct – which includes Margaret Court Arena.
“Margaret Court Arena used to be an outdoor tennis court, which seated up to 6,000 people.
It has now been transformed into a year-round multipurpose arena,” says Fennessy.
Transforming Margaret Court Arena meant an increase in capacity to 7,500, a retractable roof and an internal concourse.
The venue is fast becoming one of the most unique locations for live music in the country.
“The thing that sets apart is that it’s quite a small size for an arena. When it’s in concert mode with a stage, it fits about 6000 people.
Rod Laver Arena next door seats around 12,000 when it’s in concert mode, so Margaret Court provides that more intimate feeling but still in an arena environment,” says Fennessy.
Completed in October 2014, the new Arena has already seen some big acts like Billy Idol, Mark Ronson and The Wombats grace its stage.
Fennessy says the amount of bookings that have taken place in such a small time frame has been really encouraging, and only proves it has been the missing piece to the puzzle of credible music venues in Melbourne.
The second stage for Melbourne Park includes an eight storey media and administration building, which will house staff from Melbourne Park and Tennis Australia, as well as visiting media during the Australian Open.
A pedestrian bridge will also be erected this year, which Fennessy says will help capitalise on the precinct’s proximity to Melbourne CBD.
“People often don’t realise just how close we are to the city centre, so the bridge will make it about a five minute walk from Fed Square.
“It begins in Birrarung Marr and lands pretty much right in front of Margaret Court Arena.
This is due for completion around October this year, so it will be complete in time for next year’s Australian Open,” he says.
While stage two is well underway, the real highlight will be the major Rod Laver Arena refurbishment, set to commence after this year’s Australian Open.
“This will be the first significant works that have taken place at the Arena since it was opened back in 1988.
“They’re actually going to be really significant, again it is an increase in capacity, but more importantly it is allowing for bigger shows to come to the venue,” he says.
Stage two’s work on Rod Laver will include a bigger open space environment with more shade and indoor areas for patrons in the new Eastern Annex entry.
This is something Fennessy says is paramount for the usually heatwave-stricken Tennis season, but also for the die-hard fans that line up for hours on end at the arena all year round for various concerts and events.
The renovations that can’t be seen from the front gates however, will arguably impact the audience experience most of all.
“The rigging capacity is being increased, and also the actual loading bay is being increased and widened. These are the kinds of things that have hampered our ability to have some of the bigger shows in the past.
The bigger loading bay will help to cater for the more extravagant stage shows and productions, as well as improvements to the rigging of the arena, which Fennessy explains actually plays a huge part in the production of a show.
“Basically the size of the show depends on the rigging capacity of the venue, as everything is rigged from the roof.
Because Rod Laver has a retractable roof, some of the bigger shows have had to use ground support, which means putting in big pillars that can affect the sight lines of the audience.
With this increased rigging capacity they won’t have to worry about that and the experience for the audience will be a lot better.
It’s ensuring we will have bigger and better events, it’s a better experience for guests and patrons, and also for our hirers and promoters that bring acts here.
“Rod Laver is Australia’s leading venue when it comes to live music, so this state of the art refurbishment is really going to ensure that it remains number one for many years to come,” says Fennessy.
Rod Laver Arena’s facelift will commence as soon as the 2016 Open finishes, and will be staggered over the next three years, with a projected finish date of 2019.
Run by building company Lend Lease, the venue will be fully operational in this time, which Fennessy says CEO Brian Morris has likened this time to “rebuilding a 747 while it’s in flight,” we can appreciate the analogy!
Melbourne & Olympic Park’s redevelopment will include a third stage, which is yet to be fully scoped, but suffice to say there is more to come.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the sporting precinct of Melbourne is now arguably amongst the best in the world.
“The precinct has grown immeasurably in the last couple of decades, but what’s happening at the moment as part of this redevelopment is certainly the most significant and the most exciting in my opinion,” says Fennessy.
Originally posted on turfmate