As the Pacific Coliseum at Vancouver’s Hastings Park approaches its 50th anniversary, officials with the Pacific National Exhibition say the facility still has many years remaining in its lifespan despite the recent decision by the Vancouver Giants to vacate the facility.
Since the Giants’ inception in 2001, they have used the Pacific Coliseum as their home ice for every season, which consists of at least 32 home games spanning from September to May.
However, attendance at the stadium has faltered in recent years. Average home game attendance was 5,546 spectators during the 2009-2010 season, and this figure steadily fell to just 3,332 spectators in the season that just ended.
The Coliseum has a capacity for 17,000 spectators in its hockey mode. During Giants games, the upper bowl is draped and closed off to reduce the capacity by approximately half and improve the spectator experience. By comparison, the team’s new home ice at Langley Events Centre will provide a more intimate venue with just over 5,000 fixed seats.
“Although it is unfortunate that the PNE won’t be the home venue of the Vancouver Giants, we respect their business and need to have a business model that makes sense and have a venue that fits their business model,” Laura Ballance, a spokesperson with the PNE, told Vancity Buzz.
With the Giants moving out of the arena, it allows the PNE to pursue more commercial work that generates greater revenue, including concerts, trade shows, festivals, and filming. It is also the largest venue on the fairgrounds for Fair at the PNE programming every summer, and plans are in the works to construct a 120,000-square-foot underground exhibition hall next to the Coliseum and Agrodome.
In the past, the Coliseum has held events like Disney On Ice, Marvel Universe Live!, and Cirque du Soleil performances. More notably in spring 2015, U2 rented the Coliseum for an entire month for their rehearsals ahead of launching their global iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour at Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver.
But Ballance says the PNE is forced to turn down a significant amount of business because of a lack of open dates or the Giants’ game blackout around their game days throughout their season. With the Giants occupying the building, the PNE merely breaks even during the hockey season.
“What the Giants’ departure will allow us to do is do more of the commercial type of activity that we do when we don’t have the Giants season on,” she said. “The Giants were never a net revenue generator for the PNE, and so this will allow us to actually generate more revenue from that building.”
Even with the Giants’ blackouts and game days, the Coliseum is used between 120 and 150 days on average each year. It is one of the busiest venues in North America of its size, and its size fills a certain growing demand in the city for such venues. The Coliseum complements Rogers Arena, Vancouver Convention Centre, B.C. Place, and other event-hosting facilities.
“It’s great for Vancouver to have a secondary tier one venue to host all of these other events and attractions that want to come to our city,” said Ballance. “Not a lot of cities have multiple large venues to facilitate the activities that happen.”
Built in 1968, the Coliseum has had a storied past. It was originally built to attract a NHL franchise, which was successfully accomplished on October 9, 1970 when the Vancouver Canucks played their first game at the arena under the banner of the NHL. The games of two Stanley Cup Finals in 1982 and 1994 were played on the ice.
After a quarter century of calling the Coliseum their home ice, the Canucks moved to their new home at Rogers Arena in 1995.
Prior to hosting the figure skating and short-track speed skating events of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Coliseum underwent a $20.4-million upgrade that saw the installation of new lighting, seats, and a centre scoreboard.
Washrooms, electrical systems, heating-ventilation and air-conditioning systems were also improved and the ice skating surface was widened to international sporting dimensions.
Panorama of the Pacific Coliseum’s interior during the 2010 Olympics.
The Giants could still potentially play some of their major games at the Coliseum, such as certain playoffs games and the annual teddy bear toss. The venue is necessary for the team’s bid to host the Memorial Cup and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
Just two other cities in Canada have two tier one-sized indoor arenas. The Edmonton Oilers will be moving from Rexall Place to the newly constructed Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton next season. Similar to Pacific Coliseum’s usage, the 16,839-seat Rexall Place will remain for the purpose of hosting concerts and other events.
Last fall, Quebec City opened Centre Vidéotron, an 18,259-seat indoor arena built to lure the NHL’s return to the city and the Winter Olympics. The old arena, Colisée Pepsi, will be demolished eventually.
Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition equivalent of the Pacific Coliseum is the Ricoh Coliseum, a 1921-built facility with just 7,800 seats for ice hockey. But it does not have a history with the city’s NHL team; the historic Maple Leaf Gardens, the original home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was gutted and converted into a Loblaws supermarket in 2011. A portion of the space is used as an athletic complex for Ryerson University, which includes an NHL-sized ice rink with 2,300 seats.