Has there been some talk recently about this Grey Cup bringing a legacy of a dome over CommonWealth Stadium? Anybody hear this as well?
I’ve heard this as well but I havnt been able to see rederings of the project, as much as the CFL an outdoor sport, Edmonton climate far out dose many southern teams as far as cold weather, a roof might not be a bad idea and making football a year round sport in Edmonton I think would be huge for the city
It’s a cover for the field only, not the stands.
And it’s strictly seasonal to enable field usage all year round.
Commonwealth doesn’t need a roof! What it needs is a redesign to get rid of the track surrounding the field to enable the seating areas to be brought closer to the field.
During the Alberta election in 1985 Premier Don Getty said that his government would look into putting a dome on Commonwealth Stadium but after the election when he discovered what the cost would be he said that no dome would be considered. The cost of putting a roof on now will be considerably much higher and unfeasible.
Agree ... unless it is part of the post-Covid infrastructure spending to goose the construction sector.
Remember this? Ideas usually don't go away forever.
Mid-sized stadium, large-sized conversation starter in Edmonton
Dan Barnes Edmonton Journal Feb 10, 2017
Rendering of a mid-sized stadium on Edmonton's Northlands exhibition grounds. Artist's rendering
It is a stunner, and sized to fill a gaping hole in Edmonton’s infrastructure inventory.
For now, a mid-sized stadium pegged for the city’s Northlands exhibition grounds is off the books.
But a citizens’ panel will soon be contemplating a civic strategy for bidding on major events, and a report from that panel to Edmonton city council is due this summer. In addition to laying out the broader vision, it will also help inform the city’s long-awaited decision on a potential bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
That’s where the stadium conversation could be restarted, and there are stakeholders hoping it proceeds.
But first, a little background.
The City of Edmonton’s mid-size stadium plan, which was approved by council in March 2014, cites the need for a venue with seating for up to 10,000 people, and centres on a phased-in Clarke Park expansion dependent on increased attendance for the primary tenant, which is now FC Edmonton.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games bid committee determined there was a need for just such a stadium to host rugby sevens, but also decided a new facility could be built. In December 2014, the bid committee informed Northlands executives that their campus in northeast Edmonton had been chosen as the primary site for that venue, to be constructed at a cost of about $140 million. The total Games bid budget of $1 billion would have included 75 per cent of the cost of the stadium, with Northlands picking up the remainder.
Reg Milley, the former chair of the 2022 bid committee who is now chairing the citizens’ panel, said Thursday he couldn’t comment on the contents of the 2022 bid.
Economic downturn ended 2022 Games bid
On Feb. 10, 2015, that bid was abandoned before it was delivered to Commonwealth Games Canada. Edmonton officials cited the financial downturn as the primary reason for their decision, and were offered first right of refusal to be Canada’s candidate city for the 2026 Games. That right has lapsed, but an Edmonton bid is still a possibility, according to city manager Linda Cochrane.
Even in the absence of a Games bid, Northlands officials saw merit in the mid-size stadium project and followed through by developing a comprehensive plan for the phased-in construction of the facility, abutting Wayne Gretzky Drive. At the time, Northlands was still committed to horse racing on their campus, and the plan called for the stadium to be opened to the west as a viewing area for the track. It also incorporated suites, a buffet restaurant and a casino.
The first phase of stadium construction would have seen 5,000 seats built in a lower bowl, with 15,000 to come in a second loge phase. The plan also contemplated beer gardens, warm-up, medical and media areas, and a 95,000-square-foot removable dome to make it a year-round venue for minor, high school, college, university and major sports, including the soccer club, FC Edmonton.
Northlands eventually determined the risks were too great, particularly in the absence of capital funding from a potential Games bid budget, so it shelved the plan.
“As a part of Vision 2020 process, we had a six-member working committee explore the feasibility of a mid-size outdoor stadium that built upon prior work performed alongside the 2022 Commonwealth Games bid,” said Northlands president Tim Reid. “To the credit of our board, they felt it was not appropriate at the time.
“However, they preserved the space and site plan for future consideration.”
New stadium would suit soccer team
And if a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games proceeds and succeeds, it would be time to consider that stadium plan once again, with or without the horse-racing component. FC Edmonton is certainly one of the more interested stakeholders. They play out of Clarke Park and are looking for new digs, and could make use of a mid-sized stadium.
“I’ve talked a little bit with Northlands about some of their plans,” said FC Edmonton owner Tom Fath.
“Building a new facility in Edmonton is incredibly important for us. People, when they go to a professional sport, they want fancy and new, right. It’s clear that Edmonton needs a real good, mid-sized stadium. It could be at Northlands. It could be somewhere else. But that’s really important for Edmonton.”
Indeed, in building a venue plan for the Games, committee members had to envision what was right for Edmonton.
“When you’re looking at your venue plan for hosting a Games, first and foremost in that venue plan is really what do you need for the long term, not what’s needed for the Games,” said Brian MacPherson, CEO of Commonwealth Games Canada, who still hopes Edmonton will bid for 2026.
“That’s the legacy value. It’s very important to have the right sized stadium that’s built for the city, not just a singular one-off event.”
The city’s inventory of facilities with artificial turf includes Foote Field with seating for 3,500, and Clarke Park at 5,000, and is topped by Commonwealth Stadium at 56,200. For now, the mid-sized stadium is still only on a wish list.
Blast from the past...what might have been.
Retrofutures: Edmonton’s Omniplex – Part 1
Dr. Russell Cobb
Since Edmonton’s emergence as a metropolis during the oil boom of the mid-twentieth century, the city has aspired to become “world class.” No one seems quite sure what that entails, but it could be explained using the sociologist Saskia Sassen’s term “global city.” Global cities are centres of transnational economies and cultures, places of international power, finance, and influence.
Many recent projects—the expansion of the University of Alberta, the construction of the West Edmonton Mall, the plans for new Arena District—have been justified by the idea that they will launch Edmonton into the vaunted status of global city. While the present may leave something to be desired, the future in Edmonton has always looked bright indeed.
World-Class Dreams of Omniplex
While this desire to become “world class” may seem like a recent phenomenon, tied to the city’s growth in the twenty-first century, it can be traced back at least fifty years. As the city pushes forward with a plethora of redevelopment plans, it’s worth looking back at the city’s most grandiose proposal to catapult it into world-class status: a project known simply as Omniplex. The project might sound familiar: it was to be a downtown sports arena that would act as an economic catalyst, spurring an economic boom, capturing millions of tourist dollars, and boosting civic pride. But Omniplex wasn’t just a hockey arena. It was football field, a convention centre, a concert venue, and a dining destination stacked with luxury restaurants. By the time the models were revealed to the public in the late 1960s, it had morphed into perhaps the most ambitious plan ever hatched for an arena in North America. Alas, Omniplex was defeated in a 1970 plebiscite, leaving behind only the dreams of a full-scale revitalization of downtown. To paraphrase William Faulkner, however, the past of Omniplex isn’t dead; it’s not even past. As urban studies scholars have noted in other contexts, failed projects often have the unintended consequence of generating social movements in opposition to large scale, top-down projects.
So what are we to make of the retro-future of Omniplex? Why did the idea captivate the imaginations of Edmontonians, only to go down in defeat? Is history repeating itself with the new Arena? How different would our city look had we built Omniplex? In this installment of Retrofutures, we examine the rise and fall of one of Edmonton’s most ambitious plans.
Progress and the Problem of Blight
The seeds for Omniplex were planted during the era of the North America-wide urban renewal movement in the early 1960s, when large swaths of old cities were being bulldozed for expressways, malls, drive-ins, and other automobile-centered conveniences. During this time, Edmonton was emerging from a generation of exponential growth. In less than two decades after the end of WWII, the city had built Canada’s first master-planned suburb (Parkallen, 1951) and its first automobile-centered mall (Westmount, 1955). A new City Hall built in the International Style promised to modernize downtown in the late 1950s (and has since been replaced by Gene Dub’s 1992 City Hall building), and a new terminal opened at Edmonton International in 1962. By 1966, Edmonton could boast Western Canada’s first skyscraper (CN Tower). Urban planners and celebrity architects such as Richard Neutra came to Alberta to witness a modernist experiment in urbanism, which touted car-centered mobility, efficiency, and decentralization as the way forward for the twentieth-century city.
There was one big problem, however: two decades of an economic boom and increasing suburban sprawl had left the urban core behind. In 1962, City Council formed a commission to look into the decline of the city centre and suggest solutions. The problem, the commission said, could be summarized in one word: blight. Workers who had poured into the city after the war lived in overcrowded apartments. Some lived in “Dawson Huts,” temporary dwellings that housed American soldiers during the war. The area just east of downtown was crawling with vice, and Edmonton’s first skid row developed around Boyle Street. Of particular note were the “rabbit warrens” of sin around downtown and in the flats of Rossdale. In 1963, the commission developed a strategy for dealing with urban blight, which they defined as a “contagious disease” that was spreading out of control, making the inner city a “stamping ground for delinquency and immorality.” One citizen quoted in the Commission’s report said that in dense neighbourhoods, “[m]en with nowhere to rest in their own homes are forced into the streets and taverns. Children must play on the streets where they are in constant danger from traffic.” Prostitution, gangs, and drug addiction: all of modern Edmonton’s vices shared the common denominator of overcrowding, and by 1964, the city was ready to wipe the slate clean and start again.
Widespread demolition erased the majority of downtown’s brick and wood-shingle pre-war buildings. Density was replaced by spaciousness. Pedestrian-friendly streets would be replaced with “dispersal loops,” designed to move traffic in and out of downtown in the most efficient way possible for automobiles. While downtown was being razed and built again, neighbourhoods close the core were re-engineered following the urban theory of Eliel Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect and urban theorist. Saarinen’s ideas were a major inspiration to Cecil Burgess, the last Dean of the architecture school at the University of Alberta and the so called “Grandfather of Architecture” in Edmonton. Saarinen’s theories have fallen out of favour, but half a century ago he was at the avant-garde of urban planning. Saarinen predicted that after the War, cities would grow in a process he called “organic decentralization.” The gravitational pull of the centre would give way to micro-centres in neighbourhoods as the automobile allowed urban dwellers the freedom to circulate. This process, however, left behind a decaying downtown that struggled to lure locals into its densely packed streets.
As Edmontonians contemplated schemes for revitalization, the city landed on the idea of a new downtown arena. In the early 1960s, prominent citizens started pushing for a coliseum that could suit the city’s two major sports: hockey and football. The Edmonton Oil Kings played professional hockey in a cramped and aging facility officially named the Edmonton Gardens but known unofficially as the “Cow Barn,” owing the building’s first use as an agricultural show pavilion. By 1966, the Edmonton Journal had labeled Edmonton Gardens “a disaster waiting to happen. The old house, with its obsolete lighting fixtures, oily wooden floors, and sordid washrooms, is an eyesore to hockey fans.”
Then, as now, a modern sports arena seemed to promise a new era in civic pride.
To be Continued…
Retrofutures: Edmonton’s Omniplex – Part 2
Dr. Russell Cobb
“Proposed is a structure unlike any other in the World,” an Omniplex brochure stated, “as bizarre in concept as the Expo Pavilions and many times more versatile – as well as much more weather-proof – than the Houston Astrodome.”
This moment in Edmonton’s history happened to coincide with one of the most remarkable events in the history of sports architecture. In 1964, Houston, Texas, another city riding high on an oil boom, completed the Astrodome. Edmonton coliseum boosters went on a North American tour of sports facilities, traveling to Montreal and Detroit, among other cities. But it was Houston that most impressed them. It would be hard to overstate the awe that the Astrodome inspired during the Space Age. The building, known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” quickly became one of the symbols of modern Houston. For years after its completion in 1964, it was the third-most-visited man-made tourist destination in the United States, after Disneyland and Mount Rushmore. As late as the 1980s, visitors could pay a dollar to gaze upon the interior when no events were being held.
Infatuated by the Astrodome, Edmonton introduced the concept of Omniplex in 1967. Rather than build an outdoor football coliseum, Edmonton would build an all-encompassing arena for every sport imaginable, along with a convention centre and entertainment facility. A pamphlet boasted that Omniplex would even best its rivals in Montreal and Houston. “Proposed is a structure unlike any other in the World,” an Omniplex brochure stated, “as bizarre in concept as the Expo Pavilions and many times more versatile – as well as much more weather-proof – than the Houston Astrodome.”
There were, in fact, many different plans for Omniplex, and various investors sponsored proposals for the designs. At City Hall, aldermen considered an array of futuristic designs. The most inventive of all, and the most publicized, was the Marlboro Plan. This vision featured a circular structure of glass walls and concrete pylons that supported a domed steel roof. An ice rink lay below the football field, which was tracked on hydraulic elevators. The football field could be raised to the ceiling of the stadium, revealing a hockey arena with a seating capacity of between 7,500 and 15,500, depending on demand (and depending on how high the field was lifted). The trade and convention space was tucked away underneath the stands, and a plaza area with specialty restaurants overlooked the 32,000-seat football stadium.
The Marlboro Plan. Image Marlboro Architects
Another plan–the Batoni Plan–included a cable-suspended roof and integrated the hockey arena into the football field by covering the ice with removable AstroTurf. The Hashman Plan employed mechanically movable seats on a sunken track in order to offer the best possible viewing for both sports, a technique borrowed from the Astrodome. As grandiose as the plans were, the rhetoric around Omniplex may have been even more hyperbolic. A full-page ad in the Edmonton Journal in 1968 touted the facility as “a Machine for Selling Edmonton to the World.” Boosters estimated that Omniplex would have a similar effect on Edmonton as the Astrodome had on Houston. At least four new hotels would be built downtown. Tourists would flock to Edmonton, curious to see the most modern building in North America. When some citizens started to grumble that the plans for Omniplex would have no effect on ordinary Edmontonians, supporters put together an imaginary narrative to help sell the idea. Perhaps most importantly, Omniplex would tackle the problem of urban blight.
The Batoni Plan. Courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives
“Who benefits?” the official Omniplex pamphlet asked. “Each citizen, as a modern multi-use complex revitalizes city core, dramatically increases adjacent tax assessment while providing a structure for use and enjoyment of all citizens and for attraction of new industry.” Bud Squair, president of Edmonton Community Leagues, wrote in the Journal that “Omniplex is a form of urban renewal which will bring about a rapid redevelopment of the eastern sector of Edmonton’s downtown core.”
A Night on the Town with Harry Cogill and Family
One of the many advertisements for Omniplex told the story of a fictional man named Harry Cogill, an ordinary Edmontonian whose quality of life would be greatly enhanced by Omniplex. The ad imagined Mr. Cogill’s plans for the evening. “Harry Cogill has the evening planned – a guided tour of Omniplex starting at six o’clock, dinner at seven, and the game at eight (all within the same building!). The specialty restaurants are open, the retail stores…boutiques, book stores, cocktail lounges… they are all alive with life!” Harry marvels at “the grandeur of the building,” the “mechanized cloakrooms,” the “color décor, spaciousness…can the concourse alone ever be over-crowded?”
“When the Cogills step into the lobby,” the ad continued, “it is air-conditioned…in the middle of November.” The Cogills later attend an Eskimos game where they sit in “comfortable seats – complete with padded arm rests! True comfort for a shift-sleeve crowed at a November football game. Harry Cogill shivered at the thought of that late-season Eskimo game a year ago…but, tonight he and his family have joined the rest of Edmonton in coming in out of the cold."
Apart from providing entertainment for Edmonton, Omniplex would conquer the elements, making the citizens of North America’s northernmost city forget–at least temporarily–their harsh climate. It would change Edmonton’s identity from a frontier city in the frozen north to a comfortable and cosmopolitan destination with the most modern amenities available in the world.
The idea that a sports arena could serve as a “Machine for Selling Edmonton to the World” might strike the contemporary reader as curious, but it reflected the zeitgeist of progress as mechanization and efficiency. Omniplex was not the only “machine” of the time. Earlier in the 1960s, the Edmonton Journal described the hyper-modern International Terminal at the new airport as a “giant sorting machine” for people. The French architect and urban planner Le Corbuiser once theorized that the city of the future would be a “machine for living.” By the late 1960s, Edmonton appeared to be realizing this dream.
The Fall of Omniplex
For all the praise and hope Omniplex generated, the extravagance and ambitiousness of the proposal ultimately jeopardized its practicality and financial feasibility. The NHL president at the time expressed concern that the sports arena could not meet professional hockey standards, and the utilities committee agreed that the logistics of raising an entire football field to the ceiling would be impractical if not prohibitive. Furthermore, the cost to build Omniplex was approaching $32.5 million, while the original budget for the facility was a third of that price. By-election candidate Sam Agronin accused the proposal of being “way beyond the wildest dreams and wildest capabilities of this city,” since the burden of paying for it would fall on property owners. Others worried that Omniplex would exacerbate congestion in the downtown area, and some even questioned whether Edmonton was a big enough city for a 32,000-seat stadium.
Had Ominplex Been Built
(overlay of Omniplex on the contemporary city)
Twice, the subject of Omniplex came before the voters. The first time, all registered voters were asked if the city should, in principle, agree to building Omniplex. Seventy-two percent voted yes. On November 25, 1970, City Council brought the issue to the public. In a vote to determine if the government should borrow money to start construction of the Omniplex, 54 percent of property-owning Edmontonians voted no. The city pondered finding alternative funding for the project, but interest petered out as planners began suggesting more realistic alternatives. Four years later, Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) opened, and plans began for a separate convention center on Grierson Hill (now Shaw Conference Centre). The Commonwealth Games of 1978 helped facilitate the building of a football stadium (Commonwealth Stadium).
Had Omniplex materialized into reality, Edmonton might have been stuck with a white elephant. The Astrodome is itself now obsolete, standing vacant and lifeless in south Houston. Even with the city’s muggy, tropical climate, Houstonians decided that they’d rather watch baseball in a traditional ballpark with a view of downtown and in walking distance of bars and restaurants. In 2000, Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park) hosted its first Houston Astros game, kicking off an era of redevelopment that has now made Houston’s downtown walkable and livable. In a complete reversal of urban theory, most planners now seek to encourage density where they once planned wide-open spaces.
While most of the current debate about Edmonton’s new arena has focused on cost and feasibility, city residents are also considering the long-range forecast. Will a new arena enhance the city’s quality of life and its sense of place? Or will it simply become another monolithic concrete-and-steel structure? The new arena—like Omniplex before it—might capture the imagination with its dreams of establishing Edmonton as a world-class city. But for it to sustain itself, it must also capture the needs of a vital, livable city: public space and human-scale retail with safe and walkable streets. Otherwise, it could become Edmonton’s Astrodome—a hulking structure of obsolescence.