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Western Hospitality Gets a World-Class Expansion

Western Hospitality Gets a World-Class Expansion

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Photos by BOOKSTRUCKER

There are so many reasons for visitors to come to Alberta for work and recreation, and starting next summer, the BMO Centre will provide yet another compelling reason for businesses to check out the city. After years of planning, design, demolition and construction, Calgary’s largest meeting venue is getting even bigger. It is doubling in size to more than 1 million square feet to accommodate hosting large conventions. 

The expanded BMO Centre will be unrecognizable. In 1980, the building was originally known as the Round Up Centre, an agriculture building with a show arena surrounded by stalls. 

“It took about zero months to figure out that there was a need in Calgary for trade and consumer show space, so it quickly turned into that kind of space,” says Greg Newton, General Manager, BMO Centre & Stampede Park Events. 

Between 1980 and pre-expansion works, the Calgary Stampede added an impressive ballroom here and an additional exhibition hall there to accommodate the growing needs of the community over the years. In pre-expansion capacity, this fantastic venue hosts over 1,200 events annually, including corporate Christmas parties, fundraising galas and trade exhibitions. Last year, Stampede Park was home to sets for the acclaimed HBO series The Last of Us. 

Even with these updates, what continued to elude the venue was convention business; the BMO Centre lacked the ancillary meeting rooms and space required to transform it from an exhibition centre into a legitimate convention centre. In 2015, the organization made it a priority to change that, and with support from all three tiers of government, they spent the next several years amassing an incredible team that would make the vision a reality.

Given the scale of this project, three architecture firms have worked in partnership to design the spectacular space, as well as to extend 17 Avenue across Macleod Trail, through Stampede Park, and relocate the LRT station to accommodate the expansion. Alberta-based S2 Architecture did the heavy lifting of enabling works and then looped in with Stantec and Kansas City architecture firm Populous, which specializes in convention centres and stadiums with T-Mobile in Las Vegas, the International Convention Centre in Sydney, and the Olympic Stadium in London gracing its portfolio of projects. Rounding out the team is development manager Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), project manager M3 Development and construction manager PCL Construction. Together these professionals are bringing to life a spectacular design that marries function and beauty to produce a stunning addition to Calgary’s Culture + Entertainment District.

“We think it’s a really striking building,” says Newton. “Convention centres can be big and bland and lack personality. We’ve added a ton of personality to this venue. It’s going to be absolutely stunning.”

It is already eye catching, with its mix of materials that blend the old space with the new on the bottom before presenting something altogether different in the form of the sweeping metallic embellishments on top. The grey brick is a nod to Alberta’s history of grit and determination while the various shades of copper found on the upper portion of the building not only pays homage to Stampede belt buckles but are also a throwback to the early days of the fair when visitors could crank pennies through a machine to press them into souvenirs. 

The copper panels slope down into two column legs at the new entrance, one of which is perforated with LED lights that extend across the canopy to create a beautiful visual effect, while the other curves down to create a stage situated in front of a green space out front. This area also features performance steps, which will be an excellent opportunity to showcase performers such as the world-champion Calgary Stampede Showband.

As remarkable as the outside is, the inside is even more impressive. Every element contributes to making the spaces both welcoming and functional. The new structure consists of three levels; 350,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space on the ground floor, 38 state-of-the-art meeting rooms on the second floor, bathed in natural light from a ribbon of windows, and two spectacular ballrooms totalling 70,000 square feet on the top floor. 

There are unexpected touches at every turn. A 3,000 square foot corner meeting room opens to a private outdoor balcony that is 11,000 square feet in size, fully plumbed and furnished with gas heaters, bars and BBQs.

“It’s a little gem. People are going to look at this and say it’s not like any other convention centre they’ve experienced,” Newton says. 

Another gem is the Exchange, a 25,000 square foot lobby space that features a huge skylight that helps illuminate the amazing furniture and cocktail bar right outside the meeting rooms. The Exchange’s focal point is the 70 foot tall fireplace and, just as fires have done since the beginning of time, this amazing feature inspires people to sit down, share stories and engage in conversation.

“What happens in the meeting rooms sparks ideas, and that is important, but the magic happens outside the meeting room when people come together and dialog,” he says. “When you’re in a convention you’re celebrating successes and sharing failures in an educating format, and that fire is something that anchors that.”

There is an energy in this area that spurs connections that encourage delegates to stay on site. To that end, there are small breakout rooms where attendees can slip off for a private Zoom or phone call rather than returning to the hotel after sessions. As a result, this produces a high level experience for participants and a successful event for the organizers.

Having a world-class convention centre will deliver a positive economic punch for Alberta, from the infusion of tourist dollars spent in the community to placing the region top of mind for international delegates considering business expansion opportunities, transfer possibilities or even their next vacation. The BMO Centre partners with various local agencies to showcase what Alberta has to offer and contributes to building the area’s brand recognition in order to facilitate significant future growth. Additionally, the BMO Centre will be able to provide Calgarians with more than 1,500 permanent year-round jobs by including convention season to the trade and consumer exhibition calendar.

“This exciting project is going to have a macro-level impact on the city of Calgary and the province of Alberta,” says Greg Newton.

When it is completed in June 2024, the BMO Centre will be the largest convention centre in Western Canada and second largest in Canada, capable of hosting large national and international events, with a capacity to accommodate 33,000 guests at once. Additionally, 34 organizations have made reservations as far out as 2032 to hold their conventions in Calgary. All eyes are on Calgary, thanks to the well-deserved buzz that has spread across Canada and around the world, and the BMO Centre team is eager to welcome them in to experience its brand-new, world-class convention centre for themselves next summer.

20 Roundup Way SE, Calgary, AB T2G 2W1 • Phone: (403) 261-0101
venues.calgarystampede.com/event-spaces/bmo-centre

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