Local media inform us that Umeň’s mayor Lennart Holmlund wants a multi-purpose arena for the town. Exactly why Umeň needs such an arena is a little unclear when you read his blog but the competition with Swedbank Arena in neighbouring Írnsk÷ldsvik seems to be one motive. The fact that Swedish rock band Kent included Írnsk÷ldsvik (and, yes, the concert will be staged at Swedbank Arena) but not Umeň on their upcoming tour of Sweden may also have played a role.
From my native Denmark I know that these days there are three things which can make local politicians outright orgasmic: Building skyscrapers, attracting premier league sports-teams and, you’ve guessed it, building multi-arenas.
In fact there are so many plans for new multi-arenas in Denmark that they could easily serve the demand from all of the Nordic countries and a chunk of Northern Germany as well. (Scandinavian readers might want to read this report about sports and multi-arenas from the Danish IdrŠttens Analyseinstitut)
But is building a multi-arena essential for Umeň’s economic development?
As it is, experts would like to sound the warning-bells here.
First, the fact that Írnsk÷ldsvik already has an arena means that the market in this part of Norrland may already be occupied. The big risk in the medium-to-long term is that an arena in Umeň either will be trailing Írnsk÷ldsvik’s lead or that the two arenas will make each other unprofitable. (It is perfectly possible that Piteň would be a better site than Umeň for a competing arena in Norrland.**)
Second, even if politicians are convinced that staging big events is the key to local development (cf. Horsens in Denmark), then the event economy* may be less important than many think.
Richard Florida (yep, the guy of the creative class fame – you can read his blog here) has published studies about the impact of professional sports and organised culture on urban development and his conclusion is that there is no link between what we may call formalised events such as sports matches, concerts (whoops: There goes the opera…) or exhibitions on the one hand and the development of a creative economy on the other (check his Cities and the Creative Class for some of the data). Informal cultural activity and street life, on the other hand, is very important.
So the advice to Mr. Holmlund could be: Think again and don’t get yourself rushed into starting a big construction project – even if the idea is that local businesses should finance the party. Taking some of the suburbanity out of Umeň’s town centre and developing it into something more attractive may be much more important even if the immediate effects are less visible.
* Some googling told me that if you really want to sound hip, you should talk about the “experience economy”, not the “event economy”. Whatever.
**Dang: I missed that Skellefteň has an arena. One more reason why Umeň should stay out of the business.