Liam Neeson, Guide Dogs and new ideas: MCEC’s response to pandemic sees new uses for venue

Coronavirus restrictions have seen Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) explore new ways to use their award-winning but unutilised spaces, including the filming of a Hollywood blockbuster starring Liam Neeson, and the training of Victorian Guide Dogs.

MCEC closed its doors in March due to the pandemic, but as a major contributor to the Victorian economy, the venue has been exploring new ways to contribute to the community.

“Even with the impacts of the pandemic, we contributed $740 million in economic impact to the state last financial year, and a further $1.1 billion the year prior,” Peter King, Chief Executive of MCEC, said.

“We can play an important role in the state’s economic recovery by using our spaces in new ways, both to bring jobs back to the city and support the wider community.”

One example of using the enormous venue’s space differently includes as a film studio – an idea that was originally floated as part of an innovative new idea-generating ‘hackathon’ held by MCEC in August called ‘Unconventional Ideas’.

Since that event, MCEC has been working with the Victorian screen industry, and is now hosting the production of a major Hollywood film called Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson. Directed by Mark Williams (co-creator of Ozark and director of box-office success Honest Thief), the production is expected to bring more than 500 local jobs for cast and crew back to the local film sector.

As well as the economic benefit the venue is providing, MCEC is also supporting the community by providing Guide Dogs Victoria a safe, contained space and free-of-charge space to train Guide Dogs. This will ensure people with low vision or blindness can continue to receive essential services during restrictions.

“We have an environment that is accessible and safe for the community to continue to work to their needs,” Mr King said.

“In these unpredictable times we need to pull together as a community and be resourceful, and we are looking for opportunities to make sure our wonderful space is being utilised.”

MCEC continues to explore new uses for the venue as Melbourne moves towards a ‘new normal’. Utilising the creativity and experience of its employee base, MCEC has already installed new virtual event studios and technologies for hybrid and online events, and in the pipeline are opportunities to use the building for safe and physically-distanced entertainment and events that may support the heavily affected hospitality, cinema and arts industries.