Toronto's BMO Field

Award Magazine, for which I regularly write, just assigned me a profile of Toronto FC’s new training facility in north Toronto. That led me to look up this 2007 profile of BMO Field, Toronto FC’s home field, which I also wrote.

David Beckham’s much-ballyhooed signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer has Toronto fans of the beautiful game on pins and needles. Barring any schedule changes, Beckham will play his first MLS game this fall against the Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto.

BMO Field, a FIFA two-star approved pitch, sits on land once partly occupied by Exhibition Stadium, former home of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts and the long-defunct North American Soccer League’s Toronto Blizzard.

Exhibition Stadium was a typical multi-use facility – it was adequate but not optimal for any of the sports it hosted. BMO Field, however, was designed specifically for soccer, bringing fans close to the pitch. “It’s all about being in the bowl,” said Bob Hunter, Executive Vice-President, Venues and Entertainment for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

While the former stadium had long been demolished, the former Hockey Hall of Fame still stood where the north end of BMO Field now sits. The Hall’s basement contains both Bell Canada and Rogers Communications hubs, so these facilities became part of the stadium. “There’s quite a bit of conduit running through there that we had to maintain and protect,” said Lawrence Lippold of Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects.

Visitors who remember the Hall may have flashbacks when they visit BMO Field. Features from the demolished historic building now grace the stadium’s west entrance. Original flagpoles stand in front of recovered exterior granite and pre-cast panels on the building. New interior mosaic tile and the concrete roof structure closely resemble that of the Hall. The pièce de résistance: a 50 square meter mural from the Hall occupies a wall inside the stadium entrance.

Seating for 20,000 fans, including a 500-seat club section and 30 private boxes, surrounds the pitch to the east, south and west. Gravity seats made by Slovakian firm Seda Seating Ltd. and similar to those used in stadiums that hosted 2006 World Cup games in Germany, will be low-maintenance compared to the spring-loaded variety. The horseshoe design opens to the north on a fenced-in plaza where the scoreboard/video screen sits. Spectators in the upper west section get an extra treat. “The entire upper bowl looks onto the Toronto skyline,” said Hunter.

The design team sought to make BMO Field resemble its neighbours, the buildings of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), one of the oldest fairs in North America. “It had to fit in Princes Boulevard, the major viewing corridor from the Princess Gate at the east end of Exhibition Place,” said Lippold.

To make this happen, designers set the playing field as high as possible so that the open plaza at the north end fit with neighbouring buildings. Sean Donovan, Project Manager for PCL Constructors Canada Inc., noted that the yellow brick on the exterior of the facility closely resembles the brick used to build the Horse Palace and other nearby structures. “When patrons are inside the stadium, they’re going to have a real feeling of being in touch with the surrounding facilities,” said Donovan.

The east side, a one-tier structure that sits closer to neighbouring buildings than other parts of the stadium, matches the scale of those buildings. “We really stacked the west side to put all the program space, dressing rooms and support space down on the lower level,” said Lippold.

Since many stadiums produce glare in the night sky, designers used louvers and hoods to focus lights on the field. These measures cut glare, make the lights more efficient and, as a side benefit, reduce the wind resistance of each lamp. Consequently, the poles were made lighter, using less material.

Upping the good neighbour quotient, facility owners will cover the entire field with a bubble from November through March. Local soccer players can access the field via a selection of eight change rooms set aside for community use.

Planners for the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup promised a stadium in Toronto as part of Canada’s winning bid. (Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria and Burnaby will also host games.) Construction timelines got tighter as plans for the venue at other sites around Toronto fell through. The city of Toronto eventually donated land at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), which offers 6,000 parking spaces and is well-serviced by streetcar, bus and commuter trains.

Crews broke ground in January 2006 to have the stadium ready for the June 30, 2007 tournament kick-off. Then, in May 2006, Major League Soccer officially announced the Toronto FC Franchise. BMO Field will hold its first MLS game on April 28, 2007.

Having just successfully completed the renovation of Ricoh Coliseum, the hockey arena next door to the stadium, with Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects and Halcrow-Yolles, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. reassembled the team to create the winning proposal for the late 2005 RFP.

“It’s not that complicated of a building,” said David Watson, a partner with Halcrow-Yolles, the structural consultant. “A good portion of the seats are framed with a pre-engineered bleacher system, consisting of structural steel with aluminum decking on top.”

“We had such a tight schedule that it had to be simple to build,” said Hunter.

Design challenges included an abandoned roadway that ran across the north end of the field. “All the existing services were left in place, so we had to design around all that,” said Watson.

Mother Nature helped the project stay on schedule with a mild beginning to 2006 and a 2006-07 winter that didn’t really start until mid-January. “We expect substantial completion on the 31st of March,” said Hunter.

According to Wikipedia: “MLS commissioner Don Garber has been adamant that expansion teams must have plans for a soccer-specific stadium in place to be granted a franchise. These facilities are thought to improve overall crowd atmosphere.” Lippold noted that soccer promoters believe a dedicated stadium helps give a sense of stability to the sport. Hunter believes BMO Field hits both marks. “Watching the game here will be better than anywhere else in Canada,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

Location

Exhibition Place, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3

Developer

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Owner

The City of Toronto

Architect

Brisbon Brook Beynon Architects

Project Manager

PCL Constructors Inc.

General Contractor

PCL Constructors Inc.

Construction Manager

PCL Constructors Inc.

Structural Consultant

Halcrow Yolles

Mechanical Consultant

The Mitchell Partnership

Electrical Consultant

Mulvey+Banani International Inc.

Interior Design

Brisbon Brook Beynon Architects

Landscape Architect

MBTW Group

Geotechnical Engineer

Terraprobe Ltd.

Total Area

14 836 S.M., 159,693 S.F.

Total Construction Cost

$63 million

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