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Revised plans for Toronto arena project gain approval

Canadian esports and entertainment organisation OverActive Media has secured lease terms approval from the Exhibition Place Board of Governors in Toronto for a revised plan put forward for a new arena and hotel complex.

The latest plans are an evolution of a C$500m (£295.4m/€347.4m/$402.8m) project presented by OverActive and global design firm Populous back in February. The lease terms approval from the Exhibition Place Board of Governors paves the way for a final review and approval by Toronto City Council later this year.

“Over the past eight months, we have worked hand in hand with all of our city partners to bring our collective vision for the venue to the next level, and we could not be more excited to finally be able to share our latest plans with our fans in Toronto and the world,” said Chris Overholt, president and CEO of OverActive Media.

“Toronto is one of the best entertainment markets in the world. We have worked closely with our partners to begin to realise the immense potential of this region of the city while furthering Toronto’s position as a global esports hub. Our vision is to create an unparalleled experience for fans and entertainment artists alike.”

Located in the heart of the historic Exhibition Place, the theatre-style entertainment venue and hotel complex is a strategic element of the approved master plan for the region previously established by city officials. The venue is expected to become the epicentre for what is starting to emerge as Toronto’s future meeting place for sports, media and entertainment.

With a projected completion date of 2025, the 7,000-seat arena is designed to be a destination at its core. The facility plans to host more than 200 events a year, driven primarily by premium music and entertainment bookings. It will also serve to attract major city-wide conventions, corporate events and product launches, awards shows and a full slate of esports events increasing over time. 

Additionally, it will provide a home for the city’s two professional esports teams, Toronto Ultra of the Call of Duty League and Toronto Defiant of the Overwatch League.  Prior to the pandemic, OverActive Media had scheduled sold-out live events for its Overwatch League franchise, the Defiant.

Pending final approval, the project will mark the first new sports or entertainment venue in Toronto since BMO Field, home of the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, was built in 2007. Located along the waterfront, the performance venue offers prominent open public space with views and pedestrian access.

The in-bowl design caters to traditional music acts, largescale events and the best in esports competition and entertainment. The hotel tower offers unobstructed 360-degree views, including Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline.

Situated between the venue and hotel is a privately owned public space (POPS) – an urban room that joins the venue and hotel, allowing for additional programming opportunities and chance meetings to occur.

Through the design process, the proposed hotel location was shifted to the south and west, adjacent to the venue. Populous said the move offered grander public space to the north, providing more open area, venue activation and a distinct flow-through of the streetscape.

Populous continued: “The addition of the urban room offered a new typology for patron and public amenity, and public connection to the waterfront. Separated by the urban room, the distinct identities for the venue and hotel invoke greater operational efficiency, while the orientation adjustments in the move meant a less-constrained width of the site, making for a direct connection to the back of the spectator seating area and reduced building area.

“Overall, the adjustments promoted the ability to maintain a dynamic building expression, including impactful yet discreet entrances, highly visible and iconic form and an intriguing interplay of the various programmatic components of the project.

“From the onset, the design approach focused on leveraging the energy of the venue with the offerings of the hotel to deliver a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In total, the project will elevate the City of Toronto, providing exceptional entertainment and hospitality experiences that draw people together in remarkable ways.”

Commenting on the project as a whole, Jonathan Mallie, senior principal and lead designer for Populous, said: “Over the past several months, we’ve had the opportunity to engage with OverActive Media, the Exhibition Place Board of Governors and the City of Toronto to carefully choreograph the relationship between the venue, the hotel and a new urban room that connects the two.

“The design has evolved to further integrate a dynamic building program and expression into the fabric of Toronto.”

Images: OverActive Media/Populous