In partnership with the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), the City of Vancouver has launched the bidding process of seeking a partner to potentially help design, build, finance, and operate a major new outdoor concert venue at Hastings Park.
In April of this year, Daily Hive first reported the existence of the plan to demolish and replace the dilapidated PNE Amphitheatre, which was constructed in 1966 as a temporary facility. It has a capacity of 7,000 people, with both grandstand seating and standing capacity accounted for.
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The new replacement venue on the same footprint would be a covered outdoor amphitheatre with a total capacity of 9,820 people, with 4,250 in floor seating, 4,500 in bleacher seating, and 1,070 in VIP spaces such as private lounges, suites, and flex space.
There would also be new permanent structures to support the functions of the venue, including washrooms, concessions, office and meeting space, and dressing room. A new portable stage, providing varying stage height, size, location, and design, will offer flexibility to event producers.
Currently, the municipal government is seeking expressions of interest from companies that have experience in partnering with the public sector on publicly owned outdoor concert and event venues.
The potential partner should also have experience in securing and managing venue-naming rights, operating and managing event venues, and booking successful programming calendars.
Qualified companies expressing interest will be shortlisted for their participation in the request for proposals’ detailed bidding process.
A new covered outdoor amphitheatre would significantly increase PNE’s ability to hold year-round, higher-calibre concerts, festivals, performances, and other events, effectively turning the space into a destination cultural and event hub. It would also provide the annual PNE Fair with a revitalized venue for enhanced programming.
Market research studies jointly conducted by the city and PNE show a high demand for such event venues in Metro Vancouver has not been met.
In fact, in an event industry survey, local event organizers expressed concern over a lack in supply of suitable local venues. Within the region, there is a shortage of affordable venues with a lower capacity of 2,000 to 5,000 people and a higher capacity of 5,000 to 7,500 people. Such venues have been deemed in “high demand” by event organizers.
Over 70% of survey respondents expressed interest in renting the amphitheatre after major renovations are completed.
Such a public-private partnership could minimize the financial risk and impact to both the municipal government and the PNE, while also providing the PNE with new revenue that can be used to reinvest into Hastings Park.
“There have been noticeable gaps in the venue’s ability to meet the market’s requirements for accessibility and guest amenities,” reads a city staff report.
“This, coupled with an identified gap in the supply of venue space in Vancouver and an increase in market demand for events, has triggered consideration to redevelop the Amphitheatre venue.”
Moreover, the amphitheatre plan is supported by recently approved city policies intended to strength music, arts, and culture, including the physical infrastructure required.
Similar covered amphitheatre-style venues can be found elsewhere in the world. For instance, downtown Toronto’s waterfront has the 420-seat Harbourfront Centre Theatre and the 16,000-person capacity Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place, and downtown Singapore has the 450-seat Outdoor Theatre at Marina Bay.
The Plaza of Nations, built as the BC Pavilion for the Expo ’86 World’s Fair, on the edge of False Creek in downtown Vancouver, had an impressive glass roof covering its amphitheatre. It was a popular event venue, but a decision was made by the property owner in 2007 to demolish the roof due to its deterioration.
Next to the BC Pavilion was also the 4,000-seat covered Expo Theatre, which was demolished a few years after the World’s Fair.
The new amphitheatre aligns with the city’s Hastings Park-PNE master plan, specifically the creation of a celebration area in the core of the park called the”Heart of the Park.”
“Flexible, programmable spaces suitable for festivals, events, and day-to-day usage form a new active, urban destination and ‘Heart of the Park’ that is centred on a renewed Amphitheatre, Festival Plaza, and Livestock Building,” reads the master plan.
“Extending out from this ‘Heart’ is a series of pedestrian-scaled urban plaza environments aligned east-west across the park that connect existing and renewed buildings and facilities: Windermere Belvedere, the East/ West Greenway connection through Playland, the Parade, Miller Plaza, and Coliseum Plaza.”
The master plan outlines the long-term plan of how Hastings Park will be improved with upgraded park and open spaces that also support an improved and expanded Fair and event-hosting capabilities.
Fair programming and event-hosting capabilities at Hastings Park were significantly reduced in the late 1990s when 200,000 sq. ft. of indoor exhibition space — the BC Pavilion, Pure Foods Building, Showmart Building, and Poultry Building — were all demolished by the city to make way for the creation of the sanctuary pond, Italian Gardens, and skateboard park.
None of this revenue-generating, event-hosting space was replaced during a period when the PNE was still a provincial crown corporation and there were serious discussions with relocating it to Surrey.
The master plan calls for the eventual construction of a new underground exhibition hall, roughly located in the general area between Pacific Coliseum and the Agrodome. With about 150,000 sq. ft. of indoor floor area, it would replace much of the PNE’s lost event-hosting capabilities.
But the largest component of the master plan is the complete renovation and expansion of Playland into a theme park.
The new Playland would have a total footprint of 22 acres — gaining seven acres from a northward expansion into existing parking space — with unique themed areas and a host of new rides and attractions.
PNE’s business case for the Playland renewal is slated for completion in 2020. If the plan and funding model is approved by city council, construction of the first phase of the project could begin in 2022 for a full completion of the renovation and expansion by 2028.