Countdown to Completion: BMO Centre Expansion – Looking Back, The Making of the BMO Centre Expansion

    · 9 min read

    As we celebrate the grand opening of the expanded BMO Centre, CMLC is sharing a series of stories showcasing compelling aspects of the building’s architecture, design and construction—and the fantastic team working together to deliver Western Canada’s largest convention venue.

    In this installation of our Countdown to Completion series, we reflect on the vision behind the landmark design and the monumental team effort that went into designing and building the BMO Centre expansion and the design elements that make it a world-class gathering place.

    As the development manager overseeing the delivery of the $500 million BMO Centre expansion, on behalf of our partners at Calgary Stampede and the City of Calgary, CMLC worked with the prime design team of Stantec, Populous and S2—a powerhouse team of architects selected in 2019 through an international RFP process. Stantec, in collaboration with the global architectural design firm Populous, provided local architecture, interior design, mechanical, and electrical services for the project. Populous lead design architecture for the expansion, and local firm S2 Architecture offered contract administration expertise to ensure the detailed execution of the designs.

    Showcasing the powerhouse prime design team of Stantec, Populous and S2 Architecture and highlighting the design vision behind the landmark design and the monumental team effort that went into designing and building the BMO Centre expansion.

    CMLC recognizes the significance of the opportunity to make the 565,000 square feet expansion a reality in collaboration with their partners at the Calgary Stampede.

    CMLC is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to lead this transformative and architecturally stunning project from start to finish,” says Kate Thompson, CMLC President & CEO. “We harnessed the power of collaboration, dedication and imagination to bring Calgary a unique, community-building amenity that puts Calgary on the world stage. The BMO Centre expansion represents a fundamentally different kind of convention centre—unmatched in its architecture, functionality, and guest experiences. It is also deeply responsive to the community it serves, marking a significant advancement in the development of The Culture + Entertainment District and providing a substantial boost to Calgary’s tourism, hospitality sector, and overall economy."

    Doubling the BMO Centre’s rentable area to over a million square feet, the expansion brings 100,000 square feet of new exhibition space, 38 new meeting rooms, two new ballrooms, a dramatic central gathering space and much more. With a total occupancy of 33,000, it’s now the largest convention centre in Western Canada—a Tier 1 convention destination whose extensive features will enable the Calgary Stampede to attract a global audience for meetings and conventions.

    More than 500 conventions and events have already been booked in the BMO Centre post-opening, notably the Global Energy Show running from June 11-13, 2024, which will serve as the first convention hosted in the new space. Furthermore, the upcoming Rotary International Convention in June 2025 is anticipated to draw nearly 20,000 visitors to Calgary.

    “Since 1912, Stampede Park has been a gathering place for people to come together and share ideas. The expansion is the next chapter in that story” says Joel Cowley, CEO of the Calgary Stampede. “The expanded BMO Centre will have a tremendous, positive impact from the day it opens its doors—on the Calgary Stampede, on Calgary’s tourism and hospitality sector, and on the people it will touch—visitors and locals alike. This showpiece of a building opens us up to a whole new market.”

    From the very outset, every member of the BMO Centre expansion team had an earnest desire and a fierce determination to create something truly ‘next level’. “At the start of every meeting,” says Kate, “a member of the project team would take a turn reciting the project slogan: ‘Together we will design a world-class facility that celebrates Calgary, captures the Stampede spirit, connects the city with the Rivers District and activates the site all year long.’ That’s what we set out to do; and by reminding ourselves and our teammates of our project aspirations every single day, that’s exactly what we’ve delivered.”

    “The biggest differentiator for this project is that it represents a pivotal moment for the community, as they look boldly into the future,” says Michael Lockwood, Senior Principal at Populous. “The convention centre needed to accommodate future growth, welcome the community, align with the Rivers District Master Plan, and facilitate urban development. The urban design and site context had to consider many more factors than a typical building. This expansion marks the debut of the next generation of convention centres. Every future convention centre will be measured against the standards set by the BMO Centre, including natural light, wellness features, circulation, food and beverage offerings, functionality, and community engagement.”

    A small sampling from the incredible array of design features woven into the fabric of the new BMO Centre reveals clear connections to the project team’s mantra.

    Inspired by local geography, the design draws from the sculpted riverbanks of the Bow and Elbow rivers, the rolling foothills leading to the Rocky Mountains, and the pioneering spirit of the Stampede. The three-level building features a sweeping façade and roofline culminating in a 170-foot curved canopy that extends into the outdoor public realm, inviting seamless movement between outdoor and indoor spaces. Its copper-colored cladding is textured and reflective, emulating the shine of a belt buckle and presenting a modernist take on rustic barn boards common in rural settings.

    The expansion includes a 100,000 sq ft year-round outdoor plaza with a dramatic public art installation, Spirit of Water, offering numerous opportunities for gathering and connecting. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide expansive views of Calgary's blue skies, the Rocky Mountains, Stampede Park, and downtown, while also offering glimpses indoors to passers-by on 17th Avenue.

    Inside, meeting rooms are organized into self-contained ‘neighborhoods’ with dedicated amenities such as restrooms, breakout areas, pantries, and back-of-house facilities. The Exchange and Exchange Bar create a hotel lobby-like setting with comfortable seating for post-meeting conversations. The grand ballroom design, inspired by an old ranch barn, emulates the way sunlight seeps through the cracks in the wood.

    "Everyone quickly recognized this was a one-of-a-kind project in their careers, and it has been a delight to work on from day one,” says Léo Lejeune, Stantec’s Vice President, Global Leader for the Education Sector. “From the beginning, the team fostered a collaborative culture and aligned on a unique design that balances the Stampede’s rich history with Calgary’s modern, cosmopolitan, and entrepreneurial spirit. The team worked to capture this dynamic contrast, and when patrons visit the building, I hope they see it in their own unique way. Whether the sculptural roof form evokes the foothills, the banks of the Elbow River, or the sculptural lines of snowbanks on the prairies, our design aims to provide each person with a personal and distinct experience."

    “For us to be a part of this project was a unique and important opportunity to showcase our community,” says Genevieve Giguere, Principal of S2 Architecture. “With our longstanding relationship with the Calgary Stampede, coupled with CMLC’s vision to rejuvenate a culturally significant area of our city, it was an honour to be considered alongside world-renowned architecture firms like Stantec and Populous.”

    Kate sums it all up. “My best moment by far was hiring the team,” says Kate. “There’s a deep sense of gratefulness in being involved and invited to be a part of a transformative project like this. It’s not about any one person, but about the collaboration we can all take pride in. The team's enthusiasm has been infectious, and a team that ignites excitement is the one that will carry us through to success—not to mention, within budget and on schedule.”

    Calgarians are invited to tour the expanded BMO Centre for the first time on Saturday, June 8, during the Calgary Stampede’s ENMAX Community Round Up, from 9 AM – 1 PM.

    Stay tuned for the final project spotlights as we celebrate the grand opening of the BMO Centre expansion.

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