New life for old spectator arenas
A number of Canadian cities are looking at replacing their older spectator arenas. Fort McMurray, Moncton, Thunder Bay and Sudbury are all considering building new facilities, and as often happens in this situation, the question has come up: What should they do with their older venues?
Thunder Bay and Moncton each engaged CEI and PricewaterhouseCoopers to help them deal with this question and, while the process is not fully complete, the results are both surprising and exciting.
When repurposing a spectator facility, one needs to acknowledge that the main value of the facility comes from the amount of floor space underneath its span. The flat-floor space may be the size of an ice surface—with the rest of the area taken up by seating—or it can be two to three times larger, if the seating is removed.
The Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay was built in 1950, with around 5,000 seats. The Gardens is connected to the Fort William Curling Club, and the facilities share the same refrigeration system. The facility is not far from the city’s southern business district, but the value of the land does not justify demolishing the facility for redevelopment.
Through a community workshop and subsequent open house, CEI developed consensus around a few key objectives the public wanted to see in a repurposed facility:
- Repurposing the Gardens to support community recreation and leisure needs
- Removing permanent seating and providing flexible or removable seating
- Reducing the extent to which the facility is subsidized by the City.
The workshop included an opportunity for participants to express their opinions about what they wanted to see.
The final recommendation included removal of all fixed seating in the facility, and the addition of an elevated walking track and fitness station, and a highly robust sports flooring system that would accommodate street traffic for trade shows, farmer’s markets, and other assembly activity. First and foremost, however, was the need to dedicate the 40,000 sq ft of flat floor area to community recreation and leisure programs.
The existing Moncton Coliseum Complex contains both the 6,500-seat Coliseum, and the 75,000 sq ft Agrena trade show facility. Developing their new Downtown Centre will move spectator-oriented events from the Coliseum, but not the trade show activity. Repurposing a vacated Coliseum is as much about reinforcing the business plan of the Agrena as it is about supporting community-oriented programming.
CEI based the repurposing of the Coliseum on a model developed for the Regina Exhibition Grounds, which sees a six-pad arena and large indoor soccer facility support major trade show activity on an opportunistic basis. In this model, the recreation components are primarily used for community programs and only occasionally for flat floor events and shows. Scheduling is critical but ultimately it is a win-win from both business and recreation programming perspectives.
The final recommendation for the Moncton Coliseum will be to remove all of the fixed seating and provide large-scale open recreational space at the event level (the original ice level), as well as smaller, open-area recreation spaces on the mezzanine level. Unlike the repurposing of the Fort William Gardens into a multi-purpose recreation facility, the Moncton project creates a city-wide recreation hub and supports the business plan for the Agrena, making it Atlantic Canada’s premier destination for large trade show events and activities.