Countdown to Completion: BMO Centre Expansion – The 100,000 square foot outdoor plaza

    · 8 min read

    As the spectacular expansion of the BMO Centre takes shape at the heart of Calgary’s emerging Culture + Entertainment District, we’re showcasing compelling elements of the project’s design and construction.

    In this feature, we highlight the vast outdoor plaza situated on the southern side of the building. Spanning nearly 100,000 square feet, this all-season gathering space boasts art installations, nods to the Calgary Stampede’s history, and a rich variety of flora inspired by Alberta's natural scenery. Its varied offerings draw visitors in toward the building, evoking a sense of arrival and wonder.

    Showcasing the expansive outdoor plaza of the BMO Centre Expansion, offering nearly 100,000 SF of beautifully designed outdoor gathering space.

    Central to the success of the expansion and the vision for its outdoor plaza is the esteemed design team of Stantec, Populous and S2, and landscape architect O2 Planning & Design.

    The design of the plaza, inspired by the city's vibrant cultural heritage, the storied Calgary Stampede, and the stunning natural surroundings, sets the expanded BMO Centre apart from other convention centers, the BMO Centre expansion took a unique approach by setting the building back from the street, creating a large outdoor gathering area that offers flexible outdoor convention space and allows convention attendees to enjoy the outdoors between sessions and serves as a plaza for both Calgarians and visitors to Stampede Park year-round, as well as during the Stampede's 10-day event.

    CMLC’s Josh Sartorelli, Senior District Infrastructure Manager, appreciates the importance of teamwork when tasked to design outdoor spaces worthy of Western Canada’s newest and largest convention centre.

    "We've worked closely with our design team to create a public plaza that goes beyond serving convention attendees, but a place that Calgarians can truly take pride in," explains Josh. "From the beginning, our team prioritized the importance of developing outdoor spaces adjacent to the convention centre where people can come together, connect, and interact. These areas cultivate a vital sense of community and inclusivity for both event attendees and the residents and visitors of The Culture + Entertainment District."

    Accessible throughout the year, the plaza will be a place where guests can converge for pop-up events, outdoor concerts or simply to sit on one of the numerous seats to enjoy the sunny exposure.

    “Designing a landmark public realm like this requires careful consideration,” says Adam Paulitsch, Principal Architect at Populous. “Giving people a healthy escape from their day-to-day life in a conference to go outside and have a place to experience Calgary, nature, eat their lunch – these elements haven't typically been integral to convention centres. It’s not about keeping people in the building but providing them with a variety of experiences. When meeting with meeting planners, they focused on the plaza immediately. They expressed a desire to showcase Calgary to guests and witness how community engagement with the building could contribute to a vibrant district.”

    The plaza is part of a growing collection of public realm improvements in The Culture + Entertainment District, which includes the 17th Avenue extension and the redeveloped Stampede Trail public realm.

    Guests to the plaza will discover several significant design elements that contribute to the character and magnificence of the space, including many gems distinctive to the Calgary Stampede.

    The central pedestrian walkway—the Track—is the connecting spine of the plaza. Inspired by the smooth tracks of a freshly groomed rodeo infield, the Track shapes the plaza and is a conduit for the activities and experiences within it. It begins at the newly rebuilt Stampede LRT station and draws visitors in toward Stampede Park, the plaza, the convention centre and beyond.

    Along the way, guests will spot replicas of 14 classic Calgary Stampede posters embedded into the concrete along 17th Avenue SE, paying tribute to the historic posters that once decorated the Plus 15 that connected the pre-expansion BMO Centre to Stampede Park. Dating from 1912 to 2024, these posters highlight the diversity of the Calgary Stampede, their images celebrating rodeo competitions, agricultural events, Powwows, Elbow River Camp and the midway.

    The rich history of the Stampede continues to be celebrated through the commemorative vibrant red chairs dotting the plaza—close replicas of the original seats that once adorned the Corral.

    While these subtle elements evoke nostalgia, the monumental sculpture, Spirit of Water, serves as a dynamic gathering space and a beacon for the plaza. Standing 70 feet tall, 45 feet wide, and weighing 112,000 pounds, this landmark public art piece was created by UK artist Gerry Judah. Painted with a custom-mixed fluoropolymer blue color top-coat, Spirit of Water embodies the power and vitality of water, symbolizing its dynamic movement and fluidity.

    The commanding steel sculpture adds scale to the expansive pavilion canopy and Grand Staircase that invites visitors to enjoy a covered performance area overlooking the Great Lawn below.

    "We aimed to craft a plaza for the BMO Centre that naturally brings people together, whether they're taking a break from a convention or enjoying Stampede festivities," says Greg Newton, General Manager of BMO & Stampede Park Events at the Calgary Stampede. "Our goal was to create an inclusive environment that fosters community warmth, envisioning scenarios like grabbing a quick bite indoors then enjoying a leisurely picnic on the Great Lawn or experiencing a serene summer evening concert by the Grand Staircase and pavilion."

    Expansive native ecosystems were also introduced to plaza’s design to reflect our varied regional landscape and to provide a natural escape in the heart of the city.

    "The Calgary Stampede boasts a rich history deeply rooted in this place. Our aim was to blend this history and nostalgia with a forward-looking vision for the Culture + Entertainment District and what this place will evolve to become," explains Matt Williams, Principal of Landscape Architecture at O2 Planning & Design. "Through the landscape, we wanted to infuse the space with elements from Alberta's diverse natural landscapes, including the foothills, prairies, and mountains, providing visitors with a glimpse of the province's beauty. Aspens and larches will turn golden in the fall, red-stemmed dogwoods will glow in the winter, and we added some beautiful flowering trees to celebrate the coming of summer.”

    When the expanded BMO Centre and its plaza open to the public on June 8, Calgarians and convention-goers alike will be able to explore the vast outdoor plaza and discover the nods to Stampede history, and a rich variety of flora inspired by Alberta's natural scenery.

    Stay tuned for more spotlights as celebrate the grand opening of the BMO Centre expansion.

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