Arenas and stadiums are all about community — communities of fans coming together to cheer on their hometown teams or to see their favorite bands perform live. They’re about sharing extraordinary experiences with the people around you.

Nowadays, though, those experiences aren’t limited to arena walls. More and more, arena owners want to capitalize not only on the game or concert itself, but also on what people do before and after events. This has led to the rise of entertainment districts — blocks of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels surrounding an arena, often under the same ownership umbrella. Entertainment districts mean increased revenues on event nights, as well as money coming in on non-gamedays.

With its experience bringing the visions for some of North America’s most exciting entertainment districts to life, PCL is a leader in bringing communities together and creating the kinds of experiences that people won’t soon forget.

Dale Koger and Gary Birdsall lead PCL’s sports division. During their time with PCL, they’ve worked on stadiums that now house college athletics programs, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association teams, Major League Soccer franchises and Major League Baseball clubs, as well as a National Football League (NFL) training facility. Additionally, Dale and Gary have extensive experience working on a combined 16 NFL projects, including various stadiums, as well we other sporting and entertainment venues prior to their time at PCL.

They say that more and more clients are coming to them with visions of unified entertainment districts that entice people to arrive early and stay late.

“We’re seeing more demand for, and more value in, connected designs of multiple venues. That’s vital to creating user experiences and connections that bring communities together,” Koger says.

The biggest entertainment district project PCL is working on right now is the Jacksonville Shipyards in Jacksonville, Florida.

The owners envision a vibrant downtown experience surrounding TIAA Bank Field “that blends urban design with waterfront entertainment” on the former ship-building site. Plans call for a modernized marina with a dedicated support building, a luxury five-star hotel and residences, a six-story office building, restaurants, public park space, and additional mixed-use development. TIAA Bank Field is home to the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

In Edmonton, Alberta, PCL completed Rogers Place in time for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers to start their 2016-17 season there. The arena itself boasts more than one million square feet of space, seating for 18,500 people, and one of the league’s biggest scoreboards.

PCL was also involved in developing the ICE District surrounding Rogers Place. This includes the adjacent Downtown Community Arena, an outdoor plaza, a casino, a luxury hotel and residences, and a retail complex. It also includes three office towers, including the 69-story Stantec Tower, which is the tallest high-rise building in Western Canada. Across the six-block area, diners can choose from more than a dozen restaurants and bars.

“It’s the details that create unforgettable experiences for fans,” Birdsall says. “As downtown spaces develop and evolve, we want to create year-round destinations and cohesive experiences.”

PCL has worked on several other entertainment districts across North America:

  • L.A. Live (Los Angeles, California)
    • Arena (capacity: 20,000) — home of the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), Los Angeles Clippers (NBA) and Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
    • JW Marriott Conference Center
  • Maple Leaf Square (Toronto, Ontario)
    • Scotiabank Arena (capacity: 18,800) — home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) and Toronto Raptors (NBA)
    • Two 65-story towers
  • True North Square (Winnipeg, Manitoba):
    • Canada Life Centre (capacity: 16,345) — home of the Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
    • 17-story office tower with 365,000 square feet of space

By their nature, entertainment districts have many disparate — sometimes competing — parts. But they need to feel cohesive so people will want to come back. Facilities and businesses may not be connected physically, but they need to share the same vision for the district to succeed.

Much of Birdsall’s job is facilitating the collaboration required to achieve that overarching vision. But he says the vision must be crystal clear and the leadership has to be strong to get there.

“The level of collaboration is really the key that makes that vision come together. If you don't have all the members at the table embracing that vision, it'll fail,” he says. “As builders, we have to go in with an open mind and know what the vision is. And then how do we support that vision?

“A strong vision and a collaborative approach yield fantastic results. When you start stretching the limits and trying to do too much, that's when it gets challenging.”

As a builder, PCL collaborates with teams and municipalities to make sure things run smoothly. Everyone’s goal is to have as little disruption as possible, whether that’s to previously scheduled events or to traffic on major roadways.

“It’s important to meet face to face with each client to make sure they understand sports facility operations and opportunities,” Koger says. “We want to align their goals for development and revenue streams.”

It can be difficult to build character into the designs for huge arenas and towering skyscrapers, but Birdsall and Koger work hard to deliberately inject local flavor into every project they work on. They know the demographics of each city and each fanbase are unique, and they stay authentic to them.

Birdsall points to a project he worked on in Sacramento, California, developing an entertainment district around the Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

“Sacramento is a farming community, so we brought in more farm-to-table type of settings,” Birdsall says. “Then that spilled into local craft beers. That spilled into local restaurants wanting to be a part of the arena to celebrate that local flavor.

“It really depends on the local demographics and what the local environment really is all about, and how that is activated.”

Some entertainment districts even incorporate work by local artists. Rogers Place in Edmonton, for example, features a circular mosaic 45 feet in diameter by Indigenous artist Alex Janvier in the arena concourse. The surrounding ICE District is home to four pieces by local sculptors, including one of beloved SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie.

With all the amenities available in an entertainment district, the arena is still the focal point. The games and concerts are the main attractions.

Sports venue design has changed significantly in recent years, Birdsall says. Behind the scenes, this includes increased electrical capacity to power robust wireless internet systems. Aside from posting photos to social media, these systems allow fans to order food or merchandise on their phones and have it delivered right to their seats. They can also cue up replays on their phones before they play on the video boards. As well, increased electrical capacity is needed to power increasingly elaborate concert sets, which also require structures to handle heavier loads.

Changes that are more apparent to fans include interactive stations and bars with tabletops facing the event floor along the concourses. These changes aim to deliver an experience beyond what’s happening in the game.

“A lot of the renovations going on in arenas now are looking at more fan interaction,” he says. “You can turn around and watch the game, but you can also talk to your friends and charge your phone at the same time.”

With a portfolio of entertainment district work spanning North America, PCL is ready to put our experts’ experience to work to help clients realize their visions for spaces that entertain fans before, during and after events, as well as on non-gamedays.

“One of our biggest strengths is capturing owners’ and tenants’ imaginations to create a lasting environment,” Koger says.