A Canadian esports company that counts The Weeknd as an investor is planning to build a 7,000-capacity esports and entertainment venue in Toronto on the grounds of the city-owned Exhibition Place.
OverActive Media, which owns esports franchises in Canadian and European leagues, says the 500 million Canadian dollar ($400 million) privately funded venue could break ground as early as the end of this year and is slated for completion in 2025.
While Toronto already has several concert venues, including world-class facilities like the 19,800-capacity Scotiabank Arena, OverActive Media saw a need to fill in the 5,000 to 7,000-capacity mid-level. Music acts currently must choose between playing multi-night runs in smaller venues or larger arenas they cannot sell out, which sometimes have to curtain off entire sections to appear less empty.
“Our friends at Scotiabank Arena have had a monopoly on the entertainment market in this city for most of 23 years,” OverActive Media president Chris Overholt tells Billboard. “If you’re a premium entertainment act rolling into Toronto, you’re limited by the opportunities that that venue affords because they’re conflicted out a hundred nights a year through the combination of basketball and hockey. We saw that as the market opportunity, separate and distinct from our sport interests.”
Overholt says that music and entertainment are the company’s priority for the building. He projects it also will host esport events 15 to 20 days a year, corporate events, gala dinners and award shows.
“For a very long time we’ve had a shortage of options for artists at certain capacity levels and this will speak positively to that by adding another,” says Toronto-based Jeff Craib, president of music booking company The Feldman Agency, whose roster includes more than 200 acts, among them Avril Lavigne, Alessia Cara and Michael Bublé.
The as-yet-unnamed venue complex will be built on four acres of land leased from the City of Toronto on the north side of Lake Shore Boulevard. It will be just across the footbridge from the Budweiser Stage amphitheater (16,000 capacity), and a short drive from Scotiabank Arena, Rogers Centre stadium (53,506 capacity), and much smaller soft seaters like Roy Thomson Hall (2,630 capacity) Massey Hall (2,752 capacity, currently under renovation) and Meridian Hall (3,191 capacity).
Exhibition Place,home of the long-running Canadian Nation Exhibition which brings 1.5 million visitors to Toronto each year, is home to several venues hosting concerts during Canada’s largest annual fair. That includes Coca-Cola Coliseum (7,779 capacity, built in 1922), the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (1,250 capacity) and Bandshell Park (31,000 capacity). Also on the grounds is the 30,000-capacity BMO Field, home venue for Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. BMO Field does not host concerts but is the newest major venue to be built in Toronto (2007).
Populous, the architectural design firm behind London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Australia’s Anz Stadium, Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena and New York’s Yankee Stadium, is designing the complex, which will feature 5G wireless technology.
The project is currently in the engineering stage. “We’re moving very nicely along with all of our political stakeholders and partners, and we’re certainly expecting to be moving toward having approval in the next few months here,” Overholt says.
The three principal investors in OverActive Media are the Kimel family, which own construction, real estate and restaurant assets; Sheldon Pollack, OverActive’s chairman; and Bell Media Enterprises. Among the 80 or so investors in OverActive Media are The Weeknd and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who are both early-stage investors, says Overholt.
The OverActive Media president says he does not yet know if The Weeknd will invest separately in the venue project. “As of right now, I’ve not spoken to him directly,” he says. “We’re certainly engaged in a number of conversations with those parties that might be interested in partnering with us on the venue.”