SBJ/Nov. 11-17, 2013/Facilities

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  • MLSE hires designer for practice facility; downtown targeted

    Don Muret
    Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has hired C.H. Guernsey & Co. to design a new practice facility proposed for the Toronto Raptors, said Bob Hunter, the group’s chief facilities and live entertainment officer.

    The Oklahoma City architect, the same firm that designed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 1-year-old practice facility, has teamed with Toronto designer Baldwin & Franklin to plan a facility that could cost $20 million to $40 million depending on the development, Hunter said. The project must be approved by the MLSE board of governors before it can move ahead, a decision officials expect to be reached sometime in December, he said.

    MLSE also is looking to replace Air Canada Centre’s 6-year-old center-hung scoreboard.
    Photo by: MAPLE LEAF SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT
    The wide gap in the cost estimate for the practice facility reflects the possibility of MLSE and Basketball Canada, the country’s version of USA Basketball, forming a joint venture to develop a building that also would serve as a community center with multiple courts.

    “Toronto and Basketball Canada have engaged with us on a national program,” Hunter said. “It would have significant influence on total square footage.”

    The Raptors now practice at the Adidas Raptors Practice Court, a 10,000-square-foot, single-court facility in the northwest corner of the upper deck at Air Canada Centre. Under Tim Leiweke, MLSE’s new president and CEO, the Raptors’ basketball operations staff has been reorganized, and building a larger practice facility elsewhere in downtown Toronto for predraft workouts and other activities falls in line with the club’s commitment to develop a winning product, Hunter said.

    Officials see an opportunity to convert the arena’s practice court into a food and drink destination for fans sitting upstairs that can fill a niche among the three restaurants inside Air Canada Centre and the large sports bar next to the arena, Hunter said.

    “Our existing restaurants are three, four and five stars, but that’s not what we think is the solution up there,” he said. “We are brainstorming ideas on what we could do and are looking at other venues.”

    MLSE is evaluating three to four sites for the practice facility, most of them in the downtown core, Hunter said.
    The group also is targeting a new center-hung video board to replace the arena’s 6-year-old Mitsubishi board, an upgrade that also would cover the building’s LED ribbon boards. Buying a new center-hung also requires board of governors approval, he said.

    > HE’S A SENIOR: Brad Clark, lead architect for the new MGM/AEG arena project in Las Vegas, has been promoted to senior principal at Populous.

    Clark
    The sports architecture firm turned 30 years old this year, and the move is part of a transition in leadership at the company, said Clark, who joined Populous in 2005 after spending 15 years with the former Ellerbe Becket. Senior principal Jim Walters retired last year and Rick Martin, another senior principal, is reducing his work schedule with the goal of retiring in the next few years, Clark said.

    The promotion puts Clark in position to help determine the Kansas City firm’s future direction. Starting Jan. 1, Populous is free to pursue projects outside of sports as part of its five-year separation agreement from HOK, the company from which it split in 2009. In turn, St. Louis-based HOK can pursue sports work.

    “Once the restrictions are lifted, we will explore opportunities, but there are no specific plans yet,” Clark said. “I will remain focused on arena design. We have assembled a group of young, talented designers to figure out how to do buildings in new and different ways.”

    Among that group, Geoff Cheong, Robert Norvell, Gabe Braselton and Jason Carmello are working on the Vegas project, meeting the challenge of designing on a tight budget of $215 million in hard costs, according to the construction proposal.

    “They are young, but they all have four to eight years of experience and continue to get better every day,” Clark said.

    Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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