Toronto's newest entertainment venue is inching closer to reality as it moves through the City's planning process, and recent changes to its design reflect the ongoing collaboration with planners and local stakeholders. The Esports Performance Venue and Hotel, designed by entertainment specialists Populous and spearheaded by OverActive Media, will be home to two Toronto esports teams, as well as doubling as a multi-purpose event and performance space. Located at Exhibition Place, adjacent to the Stanley Barracks and Hotel X, the project is composed of a 30-storey, 382-unit hotel tower attached to a curvilinear 7,000-seat venue.

Rendering looking west, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The original proposal from 2021 was arranged with the 30-storey hotel tower located along Princes' Boulevard at the north edge of the site, with the large arena volume overlooking Lake Shore Boulevard to the south. At a Design Review Panel session in 2021, both the City and Panelists expressed concern over the massing of the project, saying that the arena was too bulky in size, and that the tower would interrupt views along the iconic Prince's Boulevard. There were also concerns that the building and public realm design did not integrate well with its surroundings, and that it did not respect the adjacent heritage-designated Stanley Barracks located immediately east of the site.

East elevation comparing current and previous proposals, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The project team returned in March 2022 with an updated site plan application and a second appearance at the Design Review Panel, showcasing a revised proposal that directly addressed the City's concerns. The biggest change is the reconfiguration of the massing: the hotel tower has been shifted to the west of the arena, moving it off of Princes' Boulevard, and has been replaced by an open public plaza. This shift removed the tower from the view corridor of the Princes' Gate, and is more in line with the existing massing along the boulevard.

Site plan, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The massing of the arena volume has been streamlined and slimmed down, dropping significantly in height and bulkiness. The design team also offered a glimpse into the materiality of the building, with the base of the arena being clad in a wood-like finish, and the roof volume clad in a white panel with a large LED screen on the south facade overlooking Lake Shore. An expansive green roof was also added on top of the arena, providing sustainability benefits while improving the view from the adjacent hotel towers.

Rendering looking east, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The public realm around the building was also reconfigured, most notably giving a nod to the local heritage. An archaeological survey identified the remaining foundations of several buildings associated with the Stanley Barracks that still exist buried below the asphalt. The design team has proposed to keep the foundations of the largest building in situ, and to cover them with a glass floor so the public can easily view them from the surrounding plaza. Supplementary plaques or interpretive heritage elements will explain the history of the structure and surrounding area. The remaining foundations, located beneath where the arena is proposed to be built, will be removed.

View of archaeological site in public realm, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

On the east side of the arena, the public realm has been rearranged to align with that of the Stanley Barracks next door, to create a more continuous and connected public realm that respects the arrangement of the existing historic buildings. The materiality of the new arena is also meant to be a nod to the adjacent historic architecture.

Rendering looking north, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

An important feature of the public realm is the bridge across Lake Shore Boulevard that connects Exhibition Place to Ontario Place, which is located at the southwest corner of the arena site. The path through Exhibition Place that connects this bridge to BMO Place, Exhibition GO station, and the other nearby venues is an important pedestrian and cyclist route that needs to be maintained. Relocating the hotel tower from the north portion of the site to the west has interrupted this direct route, so the design team has envisioned an 'urban room' between the hotel and arena that would continue this pedestrian path to the bridge. Users would need to pass through the 'urban room', going indoors and back outdoors again, to get from the GO station to the bridge. Alternatively, pedestrians can walk around the west side of the development, though this would bring them alongside the main entrance, parking lot, and pick-up/drop-off area of the hotel.

Site plan showing pedestrian and cycling routes, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The Design Review Panel was generally very supportive of the changes to the development, saying that the massing and public realm design were both much more sensitive to their surroundings. However, while they said it was a step in the right direction, they did point out some areas where improvement might be necessary.

Rendering looking east along Princes' Boulevard, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The biggest point of contention was the 'urban room' that interrupted the exterior path from Exhibition Place to Ontario Place. The Panel felt that it would not be immediately clear to pedestrians that they must go through the interior to get to the bridge, and that the landscaping, which includes a grade level change between the urban room and adjacent hotel, is not conducive to encouraging this circulation path. They strongly encouraged the design team to find a solution that maintained the continuity of that pedestrian route as an exterior path.

Rendering looking north from the Ontario Place bridge, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The Panel also argued that while good steps have been taken to acknowledge the adjacent heritage, the approach of encasing the existing foundations in a glass floor may have slightly missed the mark. Panel members explained that the way the foundations were displayed in the renderings completely divorced them from the adjacent Stanley Barracks, of which they were once a part of, and that this relationship is important for understanding the significance of the ruins. They encouraged the design team to find a more cohesive way to connect the foundations to the Barracks that maintains a tangible connection between the two.

Rendering of the archaeological site, image via submission to the City of Toronto.

The Panel also recommended the proponents start considering the design with a finer level of detail, particularly when it came to the public realm. They noted things like the largely blank facade of the arena uniformly clad in wood that would in reality be punctuated by many utilitarian elements, such as banks of exit doors, lighting, mechanical and electrical equipment, and so on, which would all have a significant impact on the quality of the public realm. 

Rendering looking south from Princes', image via submission to the City of Toronto.

Overall, the Panel was pleased with the evolution of the project, though stated that it had a little further to go, and voted 5-2 in support of the project.

Rendering looking west along Princes', image via submission to the City of Toronto.

We will keep you posted as the Esports Performance Venue and Hotel continues to move through the design and planning process, but in the meantime you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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