Multinational stadium designer Populous isn’t slowing its rollout of arenas and esports venues despite the ongoing pandemic, today revealing designs for a $500 million convention, entertainment, and esports center in downtown Toronto.
The venue is still unnamed but will sit on 4.5 acres of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds, a waterfront site on the northern edge of Lakeshore Boulevard that would also see a hotel tower rise at the project’s rear. OverActive Media (OAM), an international media and entertainment company that owns both of Toronto’s pro esports teams (the Toronto Defiant of the Overwatch League and the Toronto Ultra of the Call of Duty League, which would call the new stadium home), is serving as the project’s developer.
“The design of the theatre was neither conceived as a sports arena nor an opera house, rather, a new typology that straddles the two— a state-of-the-art performance venue. The theatre architecture creates a merger of the old and the new,” said Jonathan Mallie, senior principal and lead designer for Populous, in a press release. “The old channeling the rhythmic repetition of historic landmark theatres, and the new, integrating the progressive forms of avant-garde twenty-first-century design. In combination, a symbiotic balance delivers a one-of-a-kind theatre experience, unique to Toronto and the world.”
Drilling down on the design of the 7,000-seat venue (no room figures have been given for the hotel tower yet), the building’s distinctive front resembles more of a sith lord’s helmet, a surfacing whale, or a cobra’s hood than a typical opera house. The upper, cantilevered portion, clad in a blackened metal, will be lined with a strip of wraparound LED screens that will gradually taper along the bulbous mass. The stone base supporting the entire venue is decidedly more restrained.
The project’s centerpiece will be the multipurpose performance space, which Populous is promoting as being flexible enough to double as an esports arena and concert hall. OAM says it’s aiming to host up to 200 events a year at the building once complete—although as The Globe and Mail rightfully points out, what will happen there the other 165 days of the year, or whether the hotel occupants will leave the tower and mingle, or create a dead zone in the city’s dense urban core, remains to be seen.
The project, the first new entertainment venue to be built in Toronto since 2007, will be entirely privately funded. The project will still need to receive approval from the city planning department, but OAM is hopeful that the venue will open sometime in 2025.
If everything moves ahead as planned, the new Toronto arena/concert hall would dwarf Populous’s own 3,500-seat Fusion Arena in Philadelphia, which, upon its unveiling in 2019, was touted as being the largest esports arena in the Western Hemisphere.