After all the publicity in the lead up to the recent opening of Resort World at the NEC site I thought I would like to go and have a look. From what I could understand, there should be a major architecturally significant building housing a casino, restaurants, IMAX cinemas, conference centre, and an outlet shopping mall to rival Bicester Village.
From the centre of Birmingham the sensible option seemed to be to take the train and, after a twelve-minute ride, I alighted at International. It was pretty straightforward to follow the signs and walk along that great soul less corridor which I have trudged so many times in the past to attend the annual Spring Fair and other events. It has been tidied up considerably since I last traversed it but it is still just a long metal tube, I suppose. Once down into the NEC complex, signage was a bit less obvious and it took a few minutes to be certain quite where to go. Slightly to my surprise I found myself being routed outside again and faced with a walk of not much less than a quarter of a mile to the actual Resort World building. On a fine day this was perfectly pleasant but would be a bit daunting I think in the middle of winter.
Having seen pictures of the building I was not entirely expecting an architectural masterpiece but the reality is, frankly, even worse than my already rather low expectations. It is certainly new, large, shiny, and asymmetrical but those qualities do not necessarily constitute architectural value. I was somewhat, shall we say, underwhelmed.
The day I went, preparations were underway for the local premiere of the new Bond film Spectre and so the main entrance was partially blocked by the workmen labouring to lay the Red Carpet.
Once in, I found to my left what looked like a decent enough bar with food, and a high street restaurant branch straight ahead at the beginning of the mall. What was particularly noticeable was the small numbers of visitors at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My experience of indoor shopping malls is that they are often complex and confusing to negotiate my way around but not this one: it is very straightforward, being laid out in a simple oval plan. It is also pretty small, with most of the standard high street names you would expect, a number of units bearing Open Soon messages and others which still seem to be available to rent. Some of the shops are pretty decent, others somewhat scantily stocked, and one well-known High Street name looking not unlike a charity shop with all its surplus sale items laid out on what appears to be a Pile Em High Sell Em Cheap basis.
I did enjoy the ProCook store, however, and found some small items to take home from there and elsewhere. Staff in a number of the shops were at pains to tell me that they were expecting more stock in soon. I guess it would be unfair to judge the place too harshly on the basis of the first week of operation but normally that would be when traders would especially want to meet the expectations of customers as fully as possible in order to encourage repeat visits.
So, what of the rest? I glanced in to the casino which looked glitzy and respectable, not dowdy and slightly seedy like some others encountered. Not being a gambler, I had no reason to stray too far beyond the threshold. The spa on the top floor looked like it might be quite inviting, were I in the mood for pampering. It was the wrong time of day for watching a film, so I cannot say anything about the IMAX experience but RW staff to whom I spoke were very upbeat about it and absolutely certain that they have a winning combination out there. I mentioned my disappointment with the shopping experience and suggested that Bicester had nothing to fear from the RW offering. It appears that what RW wants to do is offer the whole experience, concentrating on the casino, cinema, and food and drink “offers” (don’t you hate that word?), with shopping being an additional benefit rather than the main reason for going.
Well, fair enough. I take that at face value but overall it was a disappointing experience for me. Perhaps I will return when it has become more established but I think I can find much better places to eat and drink, to shop, and to relax in the city centre without troubling myself to go out to the edge. As for cinema, I still find it hard to better the Electric Experience (admittedly a slightly odd acquired taste).
However, don’t let me put you off. Go out and try it for yourself. It is, after all, an addition to the many visitor attractions Greater Birmingham has to offer and which, one way or another, makes it such a great place to be right now. There is always the new Andy Waters restaurant to look forward to, though, when I called RW to find out when it is due to open, no one could tell me! [We're all waiting for that one! - the Ed]
By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman