Leeds’s £60m First Direct Arena was officially opened last night as pop superstar Sir Elton John played to thousands of fans.
The veteran entertainer dazzled the crowds at Leeds’ latest venue after recovering from a recent bout of appendicitis that led to him cancelling his European summer tour.
But he returned in top form to officially open the arena - following last month’s ‘road test’ gig by US rock star Bruce Springsteen - with a large dose of his inimitable showmanship to cement its arrival in the city.
Earlier the formal official opening honours were performed by Leeds City Council leader Coun Keith Wakefield, who cut a ribbon across the main entrance to symbolically welcome in the crowds.
It marks the beginning of an opening fortnight of varied events, featuring diverse acts such as the legendary Leonard Cohen, local rock heroes Kaiser Chiefs and classical supremo Andrea Bocelli.
Coun Wakefield said: “When the council first pledged to ensure an arena would be built for the city of Leeds it was with the determination that it would be a cutting-edge venue with superb design and technical specifications to attract the finest of the world’s performing artists.
“Now we have firmly achieved that, in no small part due to very successful partnerships with everyone involved in the project, from design through to construction.
“It is a very special performance place that is an incredible addition to the city and along with other major developments in the retail and leisure sectors will further increase Leeds’ appeal and bring in more and more visitors.”
Meanwhile, teams of special volunteer city ambassadors were out in force across the city centre to welcome those visitors last night. They greeted people arriving at railway and bus stations and other key access points to the city to help direct them to car parks and to the arena. They answered queries about where to eat, how to find taxis and cash machines and other questions about spending time in the city centre.
Taxi marshals were also on hand to point people to nearby ranks and extra staff joined the round-the-clock city centre cleansing teams, who put on extra bins and ensured the area was thoroughly cleared overnight.