The stage at the new Sun Arena.
The stage at the new Sun Arena.
Brett Hoppé, Lira, Vusi Nova and Sasha-Lee Davids during the launch of the Unison Celebration at Time Square casino. Picture: Jacques Naude/ANA
Brett Hoppé, Lira, Vusi Nova and Sasha-Lee Davids during the launch of the Unison Celebration at Time Square casino. Picture: Jacques Naude/ANA

PRETORIA - Listed hotel and gaming group Sun International envisages its 8500-seater events arena at Menlyn Maine in Pretoria catering for corporate and trade events, conferences and gala dinners, apart from live concerts.

It is investing R4.2billion in the Time Square casino, a 238-key multistar hotel and the Sun Arena, 8500-seater indoor events arena in the precinct that it believes will eventually rival Melrose Arch and Sandton. Brett Hoppe, the general manager of Time Square Menlyn, said yesterday that there was no venue in Pretoria of the scope, scale and quality of the Sun Arena.

“There is huge demand from a conference point of view and from a gala dinner perspective,” he said. Hoppe said more than 120000 tickets had already been sold for live shows at the arena, which officially opens on November 4 with the non-profit Unison Celebration featuring 18 South African headline artists across various genres.

Watch a light show that took place at the arena: 

Sun International will cover the cost of the entertainers and the tickets distributed by all the various media houses in the country. Other live entertainment planned includes two shows by rock band Live, nine shows of Afrikaans Is Groot, Brandy and Brian McKnight, reality television show EFC, a New Year’s Eve featuring all the country’s top DJs and international DJs, The Script and Dynamo The Magician.

Hoppe hopes to achieve about 150 days of utilisation a year from the arena, which costs about R185000 a day to hire, including all its technical capacity, such as the lighting and sound systems. He stressed that the Sun Arena was primarily a footfall driver for the Time Square casino and hotel.

Hoppe admitted the casino had had a slow start after opening in April. There will be a “soft” opening of the hotel in March, with rooms going on sale from April. “It’s quite interesting in terms of the design construct because it’s the first time in South Africa that a multistar hotel has been done in one building. You start at the bottom with about three-and-a-half-star rooms and then go to four stars and so on.

Brett Hoppé, Lira, Vusi Nova and Sasha-Lee Davids during the launch of the Unison Celebration at Time Square casino. Picture: Jacques Naude/ANA

“I’ve been around this business for almost 30 years and the hotel takes my breath away,” he said.

Flexible venue

Hoppe added that the Sun Arena was a multi-use and flexible venue, with retractable seating and the ability to turn it into a 3800-seater theatre. “If you wanted to do a long-running West End show, then you would do that. Typically in South Africa, because of the relative weakness of the rand, unless you have quite significant seating capacity these things are out of your range. There is a very limited window of profitability so taking that seating up to 3800 brings that viability forward,” he said.

Hoppe believes the Sun Arena is acoustically the best venue in South Africa “by a million miles” and would allow live acts to “plug in and play”. He believed this would attract shows that in the past were at venues in Johannesburg. The acoustic experience was what artists and promoters were selling.

Hoppe said they had contractual arrangements with all the big promoters and had steered away from exclusive deals to prevent that from inhibiting the diversity of the offering in the Sun Arena. He said 3500 parking bays were available under the arena, casino and hotel, with a further 1000 bays available across the road at Central Square.

Technology is also strongly featured in the food and beverage offering. Hoppe said they had regeneration ovens, the latest state-of-the-art technology in terms of food service. “We estimate that for a gala dinner for 1400 people we will be able to get the main course served in 17 minutes. We prepare those meals ahead of time so our accuracy and consistency of presentation is enormous.

“They then get blast-chilled down to a stable temperature. "What regeneration technology does is that it brings the food back to serving temperature without impacting the cooking process,” he said. Hoppe added that all their bars were fitted with a system that enabled beers to be served very quickly and effectively.

“You plug the cup on, it fills it hands-free from the bottom in a couple of seconds to provide a quick turnaround and ensure people have access to beverages,” he said.