Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) could be setting a new course with its plans to completely redevelop PlayLand amusement park into a new and expanded world-class, Disney-like theme park.
The plan to revitalize the attraction could be completed in two phases over 10 years at a cost of $120 million, expanding the amusement park’s footprint from 15 acres to 22 acres – taking over space currently occupied by Hastings Racecourse’s barns and parking facilities on the northeast corner of Hastings Park. The redevelopment, first envisioned by consultants in 2013, is slated occur over two overlapping phases, with years one to five focused on providing the existing footprint of PlayLand with a makeover and years three to ten focused on the seven acre expansion.
Between five to seven themed lands are envisioned to create a number of unique experiences during a visitor’s length of stay, and each land would offer different types of rides, games, food and beverage, and entertainment. The proposed themed lands include Main Street, Adventure Land, Coastal Village, The District, The Park, and Kids Playce.
A new entrance and pedestrian promenade into PlayLand in the middle of the park flanked with food, patios, retail, and games. Buildings that line the promenade will feature a contemporary West Coast architectural style.
The existing Corkscrew roller coaster will be removed to make space for Main Street and its new rides such as a driving track and a new suspended family coaster.
Located within the new expansion area, it will feature a tree fort village, with bridges and overhanging platforms, and rides that twist and turn through a forest canopy such as a new wild river ride to replace the existing flume ride. Design elements include a forest floor, rock formations, and small waterfalls, and some other aspects will allow guests to learn about the region’s ecological process, biodiversity, and habitats.
A new water-themed land, centred around a new lagoon within the expansion area, celebrates B.C.’s fisheries with wood plank buildings typically seen at historical coastal villages, coupled with decorations such as fish nets, boats, and fishing platforms. There will be rides, a show venue, and a board walk overlooking the lagoon.
On the very northern tip of the park, in this themed land, a major new ‘Launch Coaster’ is envisioned as the park’s newest high-speed roller coaster.
This urban-themed area on the southerneastern corner of the park features the architectural elements of Vancouver’s dockyards, metal panels, steel containers, and brick facades. There will be graffiti stations, an urban rock climbing wall, laser tag, interactive light shows, midway games, and a small concert venue. The historic Wooden Coaster located within this themed land will be retained.
This land, designed for young children, is described as a world of oversized objects, decorated with bright colours and geometric shapes.
The Park is planned as a transitional area between the theme park and Hastings Park’s Festival Meadows and provides guests with a lush green space to enjoy a casual meal or take a break from the sights and sounds. Elements found in this area include curving seat walls, shaded trellises, water fountains, unique futuristic-looking lighting, and casual performances that animate the plaza spaces.
Despite being one of Vancouver’s oldest attractions, PlayLand’s size has not changed with Metro Vancouver’s population growth and one of the most common and increasingly frequent complaints from guests is that its rides are old and dated.
After years of dwindling attendance and growing criticism, the renewal effectively provides the PNE and PlayLand with a much-needed new injection of life. If the expansion plans are approved, planners expect the theme park’s attendance will rise by over 50% from 530,000 to 815,000 guests per year. Revenues for the PNE from solely PlayLand will also double as a result of the improvements and expansion.
According to a City report, an economic analysis performed for the project found that PlayLand would be able to tap into a market of 5.18 million people living within two hours of the park by 2020. However, even with the expansion, PlayLand will still be considerably smaller than Seattle’s Wild Waves Water Park and Enchanted Village (70 acres), Montreal’s La Ronde (146 acres), and Toronto’s Canada’s Wonderland (330 acres).
The PNE is currently seeking approval from Vancouver City Council for a $1.5 million budget to proceed with the next planning and design phase of the project. The cost of the entire project will be financed by the municipal government and repaid through the PNE’s future revenues. PlayLand currently employs 500 people during its operating season, and the expansion when fully complete will add 200 part-time, seasonal and year-round positions.
Detailed planning work for a new PlayLand began about six years ago when City Council approved a Hastings Park and PNE master plan that entailed a new and expanded PlayLand, a renewal of The Fair at the PNE’s attractions, and further greenery work across the park. This includes a new 120,000-square-foot underground exhibition space near the Pacific Coliseum and Agrodome to replace some of the exhibition space demolished in the late-1990s to make way for the Italian Gardens and Sanctuary.
The PNE fairgrounds were opened by Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier in 1910, and the first iteration of the amusement park on the same site – formerly known as “Happy Land” – opened in 1926.
Editor’s note: As already highlighted in the article, the outlined plans are conceptual and have not been finalized. The details are based on the City of Vancouver staff report that will be reviewed by City Council on June 14.