Manchester Central Convention Complex (commonly known as Manchester Central) is an exhibition and conference centre converted from the former Manchester Central railway station in Manchester, England. Designed by Sir John Fowler, the station, the northern terminus for services to London St Pancras, was opened in July 1880 by the Cheshire Lines Committee. The structure has a distinctive arched roof with a 64-metre span – the second-largest railway station roof span in the United Kingdom, and was granted Grade II* listed building status in 1963.
After 89 years as a railway terminus, it closed to passengers in May 1969 and became an abandoned railway station. It was renovated as an exhibition centre formerly known as the G-MEX Centre in 1982. From 1986 to 1995 it was Manchester’s primary music concert venue until the construction of the Manchester Arena. The venue was refitted in 2008 to host conferences, exhibitions and is Manchester’s secondary large concert venue.
The complex was originally Manchester Central railway station, one of the city’s main railway terminals. It was built between 1875 and 1880 and was closed to passengers on 5 May 1969. The station served as the terminus for Midland Railway express trains to London St Pancras. The station’s large arched roof – a huge wrought-iron single-span arched roof, spanning 210 feet (64 m), 550 feet (168 m) long and 90 feet (27 m) high – was a noted piece of railway engineering and is the widest unsupported iron arch in Britain after the Barlow train shed at London St Pancras.
At its height, in the 1930s, more than 400 trains passed through the station every day. The station operated for 89 years, before closing in May 1969. It became derelict and the train shed was initially used as an indoor car park.
In 1978, the structure was acquired by the Greater Manchester County Council to redevelop as a concert venue. In 1982 construction work undertaken by Alfred McAlpine It was the centrepiece of the regeneration plan for the area and wider Castlefield district. The hall covered 10,000 square metres and could be partitioned into various sized units for different exhibitions. Initial construction work concentrated on repairing the derelict structure and re-pointing brickwork which took 18 months. The Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre or G-Mex Centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986 after four years of renovation.
In 2001, the Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC) was added, comprising an 804-seat auditorium and breakout rooms and the Great Northern Hall. In 2005, the company running the complex was bought by Manchester City Council. G-Mex was Manchester’s primary concert venue from 1986 to 1995. Its position as a concert venue diminished after the opening of the Manchester (then NYNEX) Arena in 1995.
In January 2007 it was renamed Manchester Central, evoking the memory of the former station and converted into an exhibition and conference centre. The building was renovated at a cost of £30 million in 2008 by Manchester-based architects, Stephenson Bell. The first phase to create a foyer took from February to November 2008. The second phase, completed towards the end of 2009, included an extended foyer to the iconic Grade ll listed Central Hall. The old smoked-glass structure was demolished and replaced by a flat-roofed, clear-glazed structure exposing more of the original architecture. The final phase, completed in September 2010, focussed on the rear of the building. New event spaces were built and rooms refurbished increasing the venue’s range and size of meeting and banqueting spaces.
The G-Mex Centre has hosted rock concerts over the years. Not long after its official opening, Factory Records used the venue for their Festival of the Tenth Summer in July 1986 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Punk in the city, and included appearances by The Smiths, and Factory stalwarts New Order. James appeared in 1990, U2 in June 1992, Metallica in November 1992 on their The Black Album tour and The Cure in November 1992. G-Mex had a seating capacity of 9,500 for end stage concerts and 12,500 for standing events. Due to growing competition from the nearby Manchester Arena, Europe’s biggest indoor concert venue, the venue stopped hosting concerts in 1997, with the last gig by Oasis in December. G-Mex was the 2002 Commonwealth Games venue for gymnastics, weightlifting, judo and wrestling.
On the last weekend of 30 and 31 May 2005, it played host to the play-offs of the 2005 Premier League Darts.
After a nine-year break, it was again used for concerts by Snow Patrol in December 2006, and by Morrissey and The Verve. Marilyn Manson, Franz Ferdinand, Manic Street Preachers, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party and Hard-Fi held concerts in December 2007. Status Quo have performed there multiple times. The venue hosted concerts by Placebo in December 2009, Arcade Fire, Biffy Clyro, Thirty Seconds to Mars, The Taste of Chaos Tour 2010, deadmau5, Pendulum in December 2010 and The Eighth Plague Tour. In 2011, it hosted The Girls’ Day Out Show.
In 2009 and 2010, it played host to the Manchester audition stages of the ITV singer search programme The X Factor. In December 2012, the venue hosted the finals of series 9 of The X Factor.
In September 2006, the Labour Party moved from traditional seaside venues to hold its annual party conference at the complex. It subsequently hosted conferences for the Confederation of British Industry, ECOFIN, the Liberal Democrats and, in April 2006, the Conservative Party. It hosted conferences for the Labour Party in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 and the Conservatives in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Manchester Central also played host to the 2014 BUCK convention, a convention for fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, as well as the related Summer Sun Celebration concert (which it also played host to in 2013).
MCM Manchester Comic Con is hosted here.
In 2016, the World’s First International Street Soccer Tournament, World Street 3s was launched at Soccerex Football Festival. Eight teams, from Belgium, Denmark, England, Croatia, France, Netherlands, Italy and USA, took part in the inaugural competition.
The Dutch winning team of Edward van Gils, Mohamed Attaibi, Issy ‘The Hitman’ Hamdoui and Sofian El Adel, demonstrated the unique footballing skills needed for the fast paced action of street soccer, scoring over 25 goals throughout the tournament.
The centre is served by Metrolink tram services which stop at Deansgate-Castlefield tram stop (formerly G-Mex but renamed in September 2010) and by National Rail local train services from Deansgate railway station. St Peter’s Square tram stop is a short distance away.