Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s (MLSE) Scotiabank Arena was designed to create a seamless experience for fans all over the world, from the second their ticket is scanned to their final walk out of the venue. To celebrate 25 years of a world-class facility, MLSE is aiming to revolutionize Scotiabank Arena’s fan experience even further with the Scotiabank Arena Venue Reimagination project.

In summer 2023, MLSE began the journey to execute a comprehensive renovation project that features capital improvements in almost all areas within the venue. From concourses, suites and premium clubs to retail spaces and food and beverage offerings, Scotiabank Arena will see a major facelift in the coming years. PCL and Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects were brought on board to complete this multi-phase project.

How will PCL execute renovations to a 25-year-old building? It helps to be the company that designed and built the original venue. 

Back in the early 1990s, Canadian basketball fans rejoiced when the National Basketball Association awarded its 28th franchise to Toronto as part of the NBA’s expansion into Canada. In its infancy, the Toronto Raptors shared the Toronto Blue Jays’ turf at SkyDome, now known as Rogers Centre, 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 and planned 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 facades overlooking Bay Street and Lake Shore Boulevard along with other significant decorative details and displays to reflect the building’s history.

In 1997, PCL was contracted to build the Raptors’ vision for their new home. PCL hit the ground running on an aggressive 24-month schedule with a delivery date of March 1, 1999. 

In 1998, the Toronto Maple Leafs merged with the NBA’s newest expansion team and together set their sights on making the Scotiabank Arena, formerly Air Canada Centre, their new home. In bringing the two franchises together, the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Company was born.

At this point, the project was 13 months into construction and a lot had to be done in a short span of time in order to make this new vision a reality. In order to facilitate integration of both the Raptors and the Maple Leafs, MLSE proposed a series of changes that amounted to roughly a 25% increase in construction activity. The project scope included a 650,000-square-foot arena, a 15-storey tower and amenities including four restaurants, a galleria, food court, and underground parking for 212 vehicles.

What began as a design-build contract evolved into a lump-sum contract with $25 million worth of additional work. To add to this challenge, the NBA expected the facility to be up and running for its original completion date of March 1, 1999. The project team was determined to beat the odds to deliver on schedule as promised. 

“We’ll be 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.”

And pull together they did. Despite the additional scope of work and an eight-week labour strike, the project team worked tirelessly, using every means at their disposal to maximize efficiency. As a result of constant monitoring and communication between PCL, the ownership group and trade partners, the Scotiabank Arena reached substantial completion on December 30th, 1998, a full nine days ahead of schedule.

Fast forward to the week of February 20, 1999 — an intense week of back-to-back opening events that secured the venue’s position as Canada’s premiere multi-purpose sports and entertainment destination.

First, Scotiabank Arena hosted an intense NHL game between bitter rivals the Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadians. The next day, the arena hosted its first NBA game, with the Raptors taking on the Vancouver Grizzlies. Both Toronto teams won these games, perhaps driven to win in honour of their new home turf.

On February 23, Scotiabank Arena 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, the arena opened its doors to thousands of Canadians and tourists. Almost 25 years, millions of guests, and a facelift later, Scotiabank Arena proudly stands among the top entertainment venues in North America. Through professional sports, concerts with legendary figures like Celine Dion and Neil Young, and more, Scotiabank Arena has captured the spirit that brings Canadian fans to their feet.  

On the docket for the first phase of the revitalization project were upgrades to the 200 Level Mastercard lounge and executive suites, the concourses, complete renovation of two kitchens and all of the washrooms on the 200-level. While the project was set to begin during the off season for the Maple Leafs and the Raptors, PCL was required to deploy an intricate construction schedule demonstrating how the team would work around the venue’s jam-packed event calendar and deliver the project on time.

“With a focus on minimizing any disruptions to the arena’s active operations, construction activities were strategically scheduled around every event,” explains Jon Ridge, senior superintendent at PCL Toronto. “With sounds checks beginning strictly at 2 p.m., the team ensured that all construction was completed before that time on event days. On days that did not have an event scheduled, PCL coordinated extended shifts to ensure the schedule was met.”

As the executive suites were still visible to the bowl, the team considered mitigations to noise and dust that may affect patrons. Scaffolding was built in sections around the suites in order to work on the outer ceiling. The site was covered with black curtains and tarping so that it was visually appealing for the public without disturbing arena operations. As work moved around the ceiling, the scaffolding was shifted accordingly.

With the first phase of construction activities complete, the team is gearing up for phase two following the 2023-24 Maple Leafs and Raptors seasons.

“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,” said Nick Eaves, Chief Venues & Operations Officer, MLSE. “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.”