Mattamy Athletic Centre at The Gardens: Bringing Hockey Back to a Toronto Landmark

The Toronto Maple Leafs played at Maple Leaf Gardens for 68 seasons. The team may have relocated to new arena in 1999, but Toronto’s historic Garden District celebrated a new era and hockey’s return to the historic arena in September 2012. It took three years, but Ryerson University and Loblaw Companies Limited (Loblaws) successfully transformed the old hockey arena to house an athletic program and a progressive shopping venue. The new and improved Mattamy Athletic Centre at The Gardens (MAC), in addition to an iconic flagship Loblaws supermarket, will inform the design of future Loblaws stores.

Loblaws donated $5 million, and the federal government matched Ryerson University’s $20 million pledge, to redevelop the facility in 2009. The pledge was followed by a $15 million donation from Peter Gilgan, founder and CEO of one of Canada’s most prolific homebuilders, Mattamy Homes (Mattamy). The public-private partnership enabled the production of a full-scale revitalization, with the additional help of construction manager and design-build contractor Buttcon Limited (Buttcon).

Buttcon brings its own boastful rights to the table, as the company numbers amongst Canada’s most respected general contractors and is 100-percent employee-owned. Buttcon maintains headquarters just north of Toronto in Concord, Ontario, and employs roughly 50 professionals united by a shared commitment to ensure a zero-accident worksite, the highest quality construction and on-time delivery.

The team at Buttcon’s portfolio runs the gamut of commercial, institutional, industrial and multifamily residential projects, as well as quite a few historical renovations. The team even completed a total exterior and fenestration overhaul to the Ontario Legislative Assembly building in Toronto.

Buttcon’s combined expertise made it particularly competitive for the Maple Leaf Gardens project. The team was challenged to build two state-of-the-art spaces within a landmark structure protected under the Ontario Heritage Act and designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. Toronto-based ERA Architects Inc. (ERA) signed on as the project’s heritage consultant, joining the project’s two architectural teams: Turner Fleischer Architects Inc. (Turner) and BBB Architects (BBB), both of which are also based in Toronto.

Truly Mixed-use Development

Together, the Turner and BBB teams delivered a design that would provide a new home for Ryerson University athletics and still allow for Loblaws to create an 85,000-square foot urban grocery concept store. The concept store is anchored by an 18-foot tall wall of cheese and an elevated, open kitchen where 14 in-house chefs prepare foods daily using fresh, high-quality ingredients and a touch of showmanship. The Loblaws store occupies just a portion of the entire arena space with plenty of underground parking below-grade.

Meanwhile, Ryerson University’s portion of the arena covered roughly 220,000 square feet of space, more than doubling its existing amount of athletic and recreation space on campus. The space allows for a multipurpose basketball and volleyball court with seating for 1,000 spectators, a high-performance gym, a fitness center, studio spaces and full NHL regulation-size ice hockey rink with seating for 2,620 fans.

With Richard Volpe, senior project manager for Buttcon, in charge of the main structural fit-up, construction officially broke ground in 2010. Crews encountered the first challenge shortly after beginning demolition and site work. “We basically had to build a new building inside an 80-year-old Toronto landmark, so obviously there were a few surprises,” admits David Capannelli, senior project manager at Buttcon who aided in the main structure changes.

According to Capannelli, demolition and excavation crews discovered the water table lay just a few feet below the building’s original footings. The obstacle required the team to stage and sequence work to shore each footing up in a way that never compromised the building’s structural integrity. Once crews moved on to a new section, the next round of work had to be done to secure the building’s new support system to its exterior; all of this had to take place while crews completed a major restoration to the building’s façade.

“The demolition alone was an extremely complicated component, just because we were dealing with so many unknowns,” reflects Capannelli. “At the end of the day, though, it’s all about finding that balance where the strongest trades set the pace and push the entire team to stay on schedule.”

Putting the Client First

Loblaws opened with much fanfare in November 2012, with work progressing smoothly until the final stretch in August 2012. Just as crews were beginning to wind down construction on site in time for a grand opening and hockey game the first week of September 2012, the MAC’s scoreboard supplier called Capannelli on the scoreboard’s scheduled day of delivery to let him know that the score boards simply wouldn’t be ready in time.

Capannelli immediately contacted the supplier and went straight to the top, coordinating directly with the supplying company’s president to ensure the arena had a scoreboard for its opening games. Capannelli wasted no time, especially because the opening festivities welcomed a guest list including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty, Canada’s Minister of Finance. Ultimately, the supplier arranged for a temporary set of scoreboards to be installed, which were later replaced with a permanent set.

“The client’s satisfaction is our number one priority,” asserts Capannelli. “Whatever needs to be done to ensure the client is happy we’ll do, because we don’t just have money on the line; our reputation is on the line as well.”

Leaving a Lasting Mark

As luck would have it, crews were rewarded for their efforts with the discovery of a time capsule left by the building’s original construction crews over 80 years ago. The small copper box held four issues of daily newspapers from 1931 – the year the arena was completed – along with a few copies of various hockey rulebooks, one Canadian Red Ensign flag, a note from the Maple Leaf Garden directors, a carved ivory elephant and a copy of the building’s prospectus.

Ryerson University still has one remaining component of the project for Buttcon to complete: the facility’s main kitchen. The kitchen will enable the university to offer on-site catering services for the variety of alumni and community events it will host in the future. Capannelli and Buttcon originally expected to have the project fully completed by the end of 2012, but the kitchen addition pushed that date further back to sometime in early 2013.

Capannelli pledged to oversee the project until every inspection was cleared and every burner on the kitchen’s stoves was lit. No one can say for sure what Buttcon’s next landmark project will be, but Capannelli has no doubt the Maple Leaf Gardens project will remain a highlight for not only Buttcon, but Mattamy Homes, Turner Fleischer Architects Inc., BBB Architects and even Loblaws Companies Limited.

“It’s a tremendous project and the entire team just considers itself so very lucky to be a part of it,” admits Capannelli. With the athletic center tying up its final loose ends and the Loblaws flagship store in full swing, hockey fans, the Buttcon Limited team and residents across the area ensure Mattamy Athletic Centre at The Gardens remains a Toronto landmark for generations to come.