BMO Centre expansion puts Calgary into new league of international convention hosting

New BMO Centre will be among the Tier 1 convention centres internationally

The BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

In less than two years, Calgary will be home to more than a million square feet of convention hosting space, putting the city into the big league of international events.

The new BMO Centre expansion on the Calgary Stampede grounds is adding an additional 565,000 square feet in space. That includes a pair of ballrooms that will both be larger than the current largest ballroom in the province.

The expansion will also include direct road access from 17 Avenue through to the Saddledome, along with new pedestrian and LRT access options to connect through to Victoria Park and the East Village.

“This building puts the Calgary Stampede and in fact Calgary into a totally different league of hosting conventions,” said Jim Laurendeau, vice president for park planning and development for the Calgary Stampede.

“Right now, the Calgary Stampede is predominantly in the consumer show business, and what this does is open up Calgary in the league of, for example, Vancouver and Toronto.”

Laurendeau said that by the time the expansion is complete, Calgarians can expect the north end of the Stampede Grounds to look and feel “nothing like what we’ve been used to in the past.”

Changing face of BMO Centre

The outer face of the pavilion will be lit up with programmable lights, which will allow for animated light shows to reflect the events inside. This is being designed by local place-making firm Heavy Industries, which is known for the head sculpture at the Bow Tower, and the glass light-up pillars at Fort Calgary.

The expansion has also demolished the old BMO Centre pre-function space, and is replacing it with a new larger open area that will improve access to the various convention and meeting spaces. It will also serve as the main access point to the BMO Centre during the Calgary Stampede, once completed.

There will also be considerable open plaza space added to Stampede Park, at about twice the size of the current Olympic Plaza design.

The expansion is currently about 30 per cent complete, and is expected to be open in time for Stampede 2024. The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) said that the $500 million project is expected to come in on time, and under budget.

A rendering of what the BMO Centre will look like from Scotsman’s Hill in Calgary. CMLC

Half-billion GDP boost for Canada, Alberta

The expansion project is expected to provide significant economic benefits nationally, and locally.

During the construction phase, the project is expected to generate an approximate $497 million for Canada’s GDP, and $402 million for Alberta’s.

Currently, there are around 100 workers on site daily. Plans are to ramp up to close to 400 after the conclusion of the Stampede. Overall the project is providing slightly more than 1,850 full-time jobs for the province, with about $155 million for direct wages and salaries.

Kate Thompson, President and CEO of CMLC, said that they have been able to take advantage of good timing and the expansive park space available to avoid supply chain and inflation related construction pressures.

“We’re over 100 per cent tendered on this project, and we still have issues to come no doubt, but the team is really well-positioned to handle that,” she said.

“One of the advantages of this site that you don’t get in a lot of other downtown sites for construction is that we do have space in the park, and the Calgary Stampede has been excellent partners. It’s been providing extra laydown space if we needed to order steel early or get ahead of the supply chain.”

When the project is completed, more than 9,000 tons of steel will have been on site.

When complete, the Stampede said that their modelling, provided by the Conference Board of Canada and MNP, suggested than annually the centre would bring $267 million to the national GDP.

Once completed, the entire BMO Centre would provide for 1,580 full-year jobs in Calgary, and about $79 million in direct wages for staff at the Centre and other associated businesses.

A rendering of what the lights on the BMO Centre pavilion will look like. CMLC

Convention industry excited about possibilities

The Calgary Stampede has already booked conventions for the space, starting in 2024.

Laurendeau said that there isn’t a convention organizer in North America that isn’t aware of the space on offer.

“This is the talk of the town,” he said.

The total venue space puts Calgary into the same hosting capacity as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The Stampede has already booked a 25,000-plus person convention for 2025. They will be hosting the Rotary International Convention, which is one that Laurendeau said would provide enormous economic benefits to local businesses.

“All of those people need hotel rooms, restaurant meals, Uber rides—that is a major boost. Just that one event is a major boost for the city, and we’ll have several of those each year.”

The ballroom spaces also offer unique economic opportunities for the city, and venues for event organizers. The Junior Ballroom will be 20,000 square feet, and the Grand Ballroom 50,000.

“You’re talking about an economic engine for the city to have a seated ballroom of 5,000 people for a seated meal, but then to have clear views to maybe where they’re going for a drink after, right down 17th Avenue,” said Laurendeau.

Thompson said the overall plan to activate the area surrounding the BMO Centre begins with amplifying connections to the surrounding communities. She said a big part of this was connecting people through Stampede Park from 17 Avenue. It also means improved pedestrian and LRT access.

“A big part of that is the infrastructure to bring the road and the pedestrians through, but also connecting up to the Fourth Street underpass and into East Village so that this feels more a part of downtown than isolated away from downtown,” she said.

Photos from the construction of the expansion

The BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The BMO Centre Expansion will eventually be taller than the Saddledome, in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The approximate location where road access will connect to 17 Avenue next to the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Workers take a short break to watch as members of Calgary’s media tour the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The first floor of the BMO Centre Expansion, which will hold exhibition halls and market spaces, in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Kate Thompson, president and CEO of CMLC, and Jim Laurendeau, vice president for park planning and development for the Calgary Stampede stand inside the cavernous first floor space under development at the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
A view from the second floor of the BMO Centre Expansion overlooks the work being done to add new park and green space on the Stampede Grounds, in addition to a direct roadway corridor to 17 Avenue in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The second floor of the BMO Centre Expansion will hold meeting spaces, in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The third-floor Junior Ballroom under construction at the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
When complete, the BMO Centre Expansion will be taller than the Saddledome, in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
A view of the East Village, Victoria Park, and the Elbow and Bow River Valleys from the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The third-floor Junior Ballroom under construction at the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
A construction worker on the back of house portion of the Junior Ballroom at the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Ironworkers build the BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

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