Hastings Park and PNE eyed for Vancouver 2030 "Olympic Park" transformation

Jun 15 2022, 3:28 am

Local Indigenous leaders, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), and the City of Vancouver have big plans for how the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) at Hastings Park will be used for the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games staged in British Columbia.

The Games venue concept for the potential BC 2030 bid was unveiled today, and it calls for significantly more and varied uses of Hastings Park that would essentially transform it into an “Olympic Park.”

The Olympic Park branding or reference is typically provided for the Summer Games, where there is a main cluster of sports venues and other Games-related facilities surrounded by new open public spaces and parklands as a post-Games legacy. During the Games, the Olympic Park is a major hub for competition sports events, and often it is also a lively destination for Olympic fanfare, entertainment, festivities, and/or exhibitions.

Some Winter Games have designated “Olympic Park” hubs as well, including Whistler Olympic Park — the venue for all nordic events in 2010 and 2030 — and Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. But unlike what is proposed for Hastings Park, both of these Whistler and Calgary hubs were competition venue-centric.

During 2010, Hastings Park only had a single Games-related use — the site of figure skating and short-track speed skating at the PNE’s Pacific Coliseum.

The proposed plan for 2030 would further expand on the repeat use of the Pacific Coliseum with two additional competition sports venues (for a total of three competition sports venues), a ceremonies venue, and a fan festival with entertainment across the Hastings Park grounds.

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Closed Playland gates within the PNE at Hastings Park, May 2020. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

“We really see Hastings Park as a real centrepiece for our Games,” said Tim Gayda, the COC’s 2030 bid feasibility team’s venue plan leader, and the former vice-president of sport for VANOC. “We have great cooperation and support from the PNE and City of Vancouver on it… We think the whole Hastings Park concept will really resonate with the city.”

In a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized, PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance says the City-owned organization “was pleased to provide information about our great event spaces at Hastings Park site to the proponents of the 2030 Olympic Hosting Concept in order to facilitate concept planning…. [and] the PNE remains committed to providing support to the process while all groups work through the viability of the 2030 Games.”

Hastings Racecourse for Big Air skiing/snowboarding competitions

Hastings Racecourse within Hastings Park would be temporarily transformed into the venue for Big Air, which is the newest discipline for the sports of freestyle skiing and snowboarding — added to the Winter Games program starting in Pyeongchang 2018.

This jump for skiers and snowboarders is typically built with temporary construction, as was the case in Pyeongchang, which built their Big Air venue using a scaffolding system.

The Big Air venue for Beijing 2022 is uniquely a permanent structure, but it is perhaps best remembered for being built within an industrial zone — on the site of a former steel mill, and famously/infamously backdropped by giant concrete cooling towers.

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Artistic rendering of the temporary Big Air venue for Pyeongchang 2018. (Olympic Broadcasting Services)

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The temporary Big Air venue for Pyeongchang 2018. (Olympic Broadcasting Services)

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The permanent Big Air venue built for Beijing 2022. (Olympic Broadcasting Services)

beijing 2022 big air venue

The permanent Big Air venue built for Beijing 2022. (Olympic Broadcasting Services)

Gayda says the Big Air jump at Hastings Racecourse will be temporary, with the structure’s ramps oriented to face the 1965-built covered outdoor grandstand, which has 5,000 permanent seats.

This venue’s total capacity of 20,000 spectators will be achieved by enabling standing capacity on the ground, which Gayda says is typical for Big Air competition venues.

The horse racecourse is separate from the PNE, and operated by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.

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Aerial of Hastings Racecourse at Hastings Park in Vancouver. (Great Canadian Gaming Corporation)

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Hastings Racecourse at Hastings Park in Vancouver. (Great Canadian Gaming Corporation)

Agrodome to host curling

The Agrodome in the PNE fairgrounds was originally envisioned as a 2010 practice venue for figure skaters and short-track speed skaters, but a decision was later made to build a new purpose-built legacy ice rink elsewhere in the city to fulfill this need.

For 2030, the Agrodome is proposed as the venue for curling, with a capacity for 3,200 spectators. While this capacity is considerably under the 5,600 seats provided by the temporary grandstands of Hillcrest Rink (originally known as Vancouver Olympic Centre), it is within the same ballpark 3,000 capacity range as the curling venues used by Sochi, Pyeongchang, and Beijing.

Hillcrest Community Centre is not capable of being reused as the curling venue as it underwent a post-2010 conversion, with the large indoor footprint used for the temporary grandstands now walled in for a gymnasium, Vancouver Public Library branch, and eight sheets of curling ice. As well, the main ice sheet is now used as a hockey rink. This is one of 2010’s most successful post-Games legacies, given its high use by the public.

The 1963-built Agrodome will see some upgrades to ensure it meets international competition standards.

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Interior of the Agrodome in ice hockey mode. (West Vancouver Minor Hockey Association)

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Exterior of the Agrodome. (PNE)

Figure skating and short-track speed skating’s return to the Pacific Coliseum

The Pacific Coliseum, the original home of the NHL Vancouver Canucks, up until 1995, will once again host figure skating and short-track speed skating competitions. It will have a Games-time capacity of 15,700 spectators.

Despite the building’s age, built in 1968, the same year New York City’s Madison Square Garden opened, no substantial upgrades are planned for the Pacific Coliseum.

Gayla explained that many of the permanent upgrades done in time for 2010 will “still be valid” in 2030. This includes the ice plant installed just before 2010, which is a shared system with the Agrodome, as well as accessibility upgrades, the complete seat replacement, HVAC upgrades, and ice surface replacement.

For 2030, he continued, some additional upgrades could be done to the arena floor and back-of-house facilities.

But in terms of the front-of-house spectator experience, he says the “Look of the Games” layer of decorations will make the venue “look great,” which was a proven strategy achieved for 2010.

“[Pacific Coliseum] will meet the international standard for the international federation to support the Games. We don’t have any concerns there,” he said, adding that “we still think it is a gem.”

pacific coliseum figure skating olympics 2010

Pacific Coliseum during the 2010 Olympic figure skating competitions. (Olympic Broadcasting Services)

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Exterior of the PNE Pacific Coliseum. (Vancouver Giants)

Vancouver Medals Plaza at the new PNE Amphitheatre

Nightly medal ceremonies for 2010 sports competitions staged in Vancouver were held inside BC Place Stadium. The configuration of the 2010 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies venue was divided by a large retractable wall to establish a smaller configuration specifically for the medal ceremonies, with about 30,000 seats — half the stadium’s capacity of 60,000 at the time. Each night’s medals ceremonies programming was followed by a concert.

For 2030, BC Place Stadium will be reused for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, but the nightly medal ceremonies for Vancouver events will be relocated to the new PNE Amphitheatre. During the daytime, the amphitheatre will be used as a live site.

The 2030 Paralympics closing ceremony are also eyed for the amphitheatre, instead of BC Place Stadium or Whistler Medals Plaza, which served as this event’s venue for 2010.

In 2021, Vancouver City Council approved the $70-million project to provide the PNE with a new amphitheatre — a key strategy for revitalizing the fairground’s self-sustaining, revenue-generating facilities, and providing the region with a highly-sought entertainment venue typology.

This will be a covered year-round outdoor venue with a seating capacity for about 10,000 spectators. It will replace the existing outdoor amphitheatre, which was built in the 1960s — originally intended as a temporary facility.

PNE Amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the preliminary concept for the new PNE Amphitheatre. Not the final design. (PNE)

PNE Amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the preliminary concept for the new PNE Amphitheatre. Not the final design. (PNE)

PNE Amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the preliminary concept for the new PNE Amphitheatre. Not the final design. (PNE)

pne amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the preliminary concept for the new PNE Amphitheatre. Not the final design. (PNE)

The new amphitheatre will also include new permanent spectator amenities, including washrooms, food and beverage concessions, bar service, and flex space, as well as permanent back-of-house and front-of-house infrastructure.

Earlier this spring, city council awarded renowned local design firm Revery Architecture the contract to design the new amphitheatre. Construction is expected to begin in 2024 for a completion and opening in 2026.

“Cultural Village” at the PNE fairgrounds

Recall the electric atmosphere and world-class activations and programming of Live City Yaletown and Live City Downtown during the 2010 Games.

For 2030, that same type of “Live City” programming and atmosphere would be located on the PNE fairgrounds. It would be transformed into a “Cultural Village” in the areas beyond the three on-site competition sports venues.

During today’s presentation to media, the 2030 “Cultural Village” concept was specifically likened to an Expo World’s Fair or even Disney World’s Epcot’s World Showcase.

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Live City Yaletown at David Lam Park during the 2010 Olympics. (Alfred Shum/Flickr)

Live City Yaletown 2010 Olympics

Live City Yaletown at David Lam Park during the 2010 Olympics. (Alfred Shum/Flickr)

Live City Downtown during the 2010 Olympics. (City of Vancouver)

The diverse cultures that make up Canada will be showcased, with specific attention to Indigenous cultures.

The programming could entail festival tents, a main stage, multiple secondary stages, sport demonstrations, the live screening of events, a BC Sports Hall of Fame exhibit, a cultural food truck festival, a marketplace, pin-trading, special gathering areas, and major activations and exhibitions by sponsors.

While the viability of the “Cultural Village” concept will be fed by the crowds of Hastings Parks’ three competition sports venues and the Vancouver Medals Plaza at the amphitheatre, the fan festival will also be open to the general public looking to experience the Games outside of a sports venue setting.

Based on the PNE Fair’s capacity, the Olympic Park configuration of Hastings Park could see as many as 60,000 attendees daily during the Games. Hastings Park is “our big showpiece” for 2030, emphasized Gayla.

The drat hosting concept document also states “the Hastings Park concept provides an exciting opportunity to create a vibrant, festival atmosphere.”

During the 2015 Pan American Games, Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was similarly transformed into the CIBC Pan Am Park, which was home to four competition sports venues, as well as major live sites, activations, and entertainment.

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The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) transformed into the CIBC Pan Am Park during the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. (PNH Solutions)

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The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) transformed into the CIBC Pan Am Park during the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. (PNH Solutions)

Official Olympic Superstore

Each Olympics traditionally has a giant Games-time official Olympic merchandise superstore — a key component of the fan experience, while also generating revenue for the organizing committee. Such stores at each Games are usually placed inside a large enclosed indoor tent.

For 2010, the Olympic superstore was situated inside the Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) flagship store in downtown Vancouver, within a cordoned off area using a portion of the ground level. At the time, the superstore inside HBC was noted to be one of the smallest Olympic superstores in recent memory.

The 2030 bid is proposing to place the superstore within the “Cultural Village” at Hastings Park.

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The Rio 2016 Olympic Megastore inside a tent on Copacabana Beach. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

rio 2016 olympic superstore

The Rio 2016 Olympic Megastore inside a tent on Copacabana Beach. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Further improvements to Hastings Park?

It is unclear whether the Olympic bid would commit funding — beyond event operations costs — towards making permanent infrastructure improvements to Hastings Park to further enhance the PNE fairgrounds, as a post-Games legacy.

But either way, the Olympic Park concept is bound to draw attention to the municipal government’s Hastings Park/PNE master plan, which outlines how the park’s event-friendly open and green spaces, entertainment facilities, and attractions will be expanded and improved over the long term.

City council approved the Hastings Park/PNE master plan in 2010, but the progress on its implementation has been slow.

The new amphitheatre and Playland’s amusement park redevelopment and expansion into a theme park are amongst the master plan’s largest projects. As highlighted earlier, the new amphitheatre project is moving forward for a 2026 completion, but the Playland redevelopment and expansion has been put on hold due to the pandemic.

Hastings Park-PNE master plan

Hastings Park/PNE master plan. (City of Vancouver)

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Model of the concept for the Playland redevelopment and expansion. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Additionally, the Olympic Park concept and the concentration of three competition sports venues also draws attention to the transportation capacity required to adequately serve tens of thousands of spectators at Hastings Park — especially during a time when car-use will be temporarily actively discouraged.

During the 2010 Games, a north-south special bus shuttle operated along Renfrew Street between Pacific Coliseum and SkyTrain Expo Line’s 29th Avenue Station, with one stop at SkyTrain Millennium Line’s Renfrew Station. The travel time between Pacific Coliseum and Renfrew Station is under 10 minutes. TransLink’s special PNE Fair shuttle bus also follows the same route.

TransLink currently operates the R5 Hastings Street RapidBus along Hastings Street between downtown Vancouver and Simon Fraser University, which travel through the Downtown Eastside and makes a stop at Renfrew Street to directly serve Hastings Park and the PNE. The public transit authority has plans to upgrade the R5 into bus rapid transit (BRT) over the coming decade.

Over the shorter term, within the next three to five years, TransLink also intends to launch a new BRT line between Park Royal in West Vancouver to Metrotown in Burnaby via the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, with a stop on the eastern side of Hastings Park and a connection to SkyTrain Millennium Line’s Brentwood Town Centre Station. A SkyTrain line replacing the North Shore BRT is not expected until the 2030s at the earliest.

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