Toronto's Scotiabank Arena Is Going Through a Major Renovation
From "Just Walk Out" marketplaces to art from Gord Downie's daughter Willo Downie, the multi-million dollar "reimagination" will transform the fan experience for both sports and concerts.
Scotiabank Arena is undergoing a major renovation. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the company that owns the Toronto arena, announced this week that the "Scotiabank Arena Venue Reimagination" project will invest more than $350 million in the venue to "further enhance the best-in-class sports and entertainment destination for the future."
It's timed to coincide with the venue's 25th anniversary in February. It initially opened in 1999 as the Air Canada Centre and is now home to the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and Toronto Raptors basketball team. It's also host to some of the biggest touring artists throughout the year, from The Rolling Stones to Drake. Drake actually just played two nights there this past weekend, and the venue was temporarily rebranded as "October's Very Own Arena."
“From concourse innovations, to premium space design, to the storied art on our walls, it was crucial to us to ensure this Scotiabank Arena Venue Reimagination featured improvements that all fans can benefit from,” says Nick Eaves, Chief Venues & Operations Officer of MLSE in a press release. “Beginning with the momentum from the renovations made this past summer, we look forward to unveiling to fans the best-in-class design, technology and overall atmosphere enhancements over the course of this multi-phased project that take our fans’ sports and entertainment experience to even greater heights.”
Much of the messaging has focused on enhancing the fan experience for major sports events, including a new Tunnel Club where fans can see players enter the arena from the locker room while dining. But concerts are also a major part of the arena's identity. Production values are increasing for major touring acts across the board, with the immersive new Las Vegas Sphere venue a stunning (and expensive) example. In local markets, many major venues are upgrading to meet the demands of major multimedia tours.
An MLSE spokesperson tells Billboard Canada that, in addition to a more gathering-friendly 100 level concourse area with more screens and exclusive membership lounges and suites, there are also improvements to the concert-going experience.
One of those is the introduction of two "Just Walk Out" marketplaces, which use Amazon technology to allow fans to pick up food or drinks and then walk out without physically paying. Instead, the market uses sensors and cameras to keep track of what they've chosen and automatically take the payment out of the user's Amazon account. So while it may raise some questions about privacy and surveillance, it also allows fans to avoid lineups and get back to their seats without missing a song.
Just Walk Out marketplace, which has no cashiersScotiabank Arena
A new Real Sports Apparel shop in the concourse will also add a dedicated merch shop for concerts. At the stands within the concourse, lineups can sometimes stretch around the concourse for exclusive tour clothing. This will ease some of that load.
The future Real Sports Apparel, which will also be used as a merch store for concertsScotiabank Arena
Behind the scenes, future phases of the renovation will include new dedicated artist and talent spaces for a more premium backstage experience for artists. Future phases will also aim for more efficiency for load-ins and load-outs for instruments, sets and other gear — an important consideration as tours get more elaborate and require more equipment.
Concert prices are rising everywhere, and some online chatter worried that these upgrades will mean a higher price point. However, Eaves said in a press conference that the investment into the venue will not directly impact ticket prices.
Another way music has been integrated into the fabric of the venue is through its art collection, which features 76 new commissioned works from 34 artists. That includes many pieces that honour Leafs and Raptors legends, but also nods to the musical history from Justin Bieber to Elton John. One Canadian musician whose fingerprints are all over the venue is the late Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, who played a handful of monumental Scotiabank Arena concerts over the years.
Downie's daughter, Willo Downie, now has a piece on display in the arena. The emerging abstract artist contributed a new acrylic and watercolour work called "A Night In Late August," a fluid circle of purple hues that she says are meant to bring the viewer into a "state of peaceful surrender."
"A Night in Late August" by artist Willo DownieScotiabank Arena
"It was my attempt at materializing the very visceral feeling you get during a night of music," Downie tells Billboard Canada. "You give over your heart to the experience, surrender to the performance and where the artist wants to take you."
Downie says she is grateful to hang her work in a space with so many formative memories for her and her family, and also anyone who's walked the halls.
"I try to bring my dad into all that I do, and a lot of that comes down to continually choosing to pursue my passions, even when it gets tough," she says. "Scotiabank Arena is and always will be such a joyful place to me, and I'm absolutely honoured to have been woven into its next era."
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