Air Canada Centre under construction.
In this PCL
Canada 150 profile, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. (Toronto) looks back
on building a Canadian landmark: Air Canada Centre.
Preserving Canada’s History
basketball fans rejoiced in the early 1990s when the National Basketball Association
(NBA) awarded its 28th franchise to Toronto as part of its expansion into
infancy, the Toronto Raptors shared the SkyDome (now known as Rogers Centre) with the Toronto Blue
Jays, until plans came together to make a new home for Canada’s first NBA team.
In 1996, the
franchise purchased Canada Post’s vacant Toronto Postal Delivery Building with
plans to revitalize the structure into the Raptors’ new home. In consultation
with Heritage Toronto, the owners made an agreement with the City of Toronto to
preserve the two principal building façades overlooking Bay Street and Lake
Shore Boulevard, along with other significant decorative details and displays
to reflect the building’s history.
In 1997, PCL
entered into a design-build contract to deliver the Raptors’ vision for their
new home base, and hit the ground running on an aggressive 24-month schedule
with a delivery date of March 1, 1999.
A Sports and Entertainment Legacy Is
long-standing supporter of the sports and entertainment industry, philanthropist
and businessman Larry Tanenbaum championed the NBA expansion into Canada.
In 1996, Tanenbaum
acquired an interest in the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club and Maple Leaf
Gardens, and in an historic announcement two years later, purchased the Raptors
and Air Canada Centre, with a plan to make the arena home to the Toronto Raptors
and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In bringing the two franchises together, the Maple
Leaf Sports & Entertainment Company (MLSE) was born.
into construction, the project schedule was at the half-way point, and a lot
had to be done in a short time to make this new vision a reality.
of MLSE’s purchase, PCL’s project team took Tanenbaum and key members of his
board of directors on a tour of the site. To facilitate integration of the
Raptors and the Leafs under the same ownership group, a series of changes that
amounted to roughly a 25 percent increase of the remaining construction value
were required, coming in at a cost of over $25 million.
To add to
this challenge, the NBA expected the facility to be up and running for its
original completion date. The project team was determined to beat the odds to deliver
on schedule as promised.
able to meet the original schedule because we’re an experienced builder,” Oscar
Gaudet, PCL’s general superintendent vowed in 1998. “We roll with the punches.
Everyone is pulling together—to get the drawings, to get the product, to get
the work done.”
together they did. Despite the additional scope of work and an eight-week labor
strike, the project team worked tirelessly, using every means at their disposal
to maximize efficiency. As a result of detailed planning, extensive
collaboration, and communication between PCL, the ownership group, and trade
partners, Air Canada Centre reached substantial completion on December 30th,
1998, nine days ahead of schedule.
In all, the
project scope included a 650,000-sqaure foot arena, a 15-story tower, and
amenities including four restaurants, a galleria, many food and beverage
concession stands, and underground parking for 212 vehicles.
Bringing Canadians to Their
to Air Canada Centre’s opening celebrations in February 1999: an intense week
of back-to-back events that secured Air Canada Centre’s position as Canada’s
premiere multipurpose sports and entertainment venue.
20th, the Maple Leafs hosted bitter rivals the Montreal Canadiens in the first
NHL hockey game at the new arena. The next day, Air Canada Centre hosted its first
NBA game, with the Raptors taking on the Vancouver Grizzlies. Both Toronto
teams won these games, perhaps driven to win in honor of their new home.
22nd, Air Canada Centre held its first concert, featuring Canada’s legendary
band, the Tragically Hip, followed by the Rolling Stones just a few days later.
In its first
week alone, Air Canada Centre opened its doors to thousands of Canadians. Eighteen
years, millions of guests, and a facelift later, it proudly stands among the
top entertainment venues in North America.
From hosting professional sports matches for
diehard fans to sharing the stage with musical icons, Air Canada Centre captures
the spirit that brings Canadian fans to their feet.