Ground broken on $500M expansion of Calgary BMO Centre

After years of preparations, the ceremonial groundbreaking for the half-billion-dollar expansion of Calgary's BMO Centre was held Thursday.

Officials predict jobs, economic benefits from doubling size of convention facility

A rendering of what the expanded BMO Centre is expected to look like, once complete. (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

After years of preparations, the ceremonial groundbreaking for the half-billion-dollar expansion of Calgary's BMO Centre was held Thursday.

The expansion will see the current facility at Stampede Park double in size, adding 560,000 square feet of space to the building.

New renderings of the expansion show a modern interior (and, some might say, a not-very-Stampede look) that stands in stark contrast to the interior of the current BMO Centre.

An interior rendering of the BMO Centre expansion. (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

The demolition of the 70-year-old Stampede Corral took place through the winter and the adjoining Hall A of the BMO Centre was also torn down to make way for the expansion.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was among the dignitaries present for the groundbreaking ceremony.

After several years of economic turmoil and a deadly pandemic, the mayor said it's impossible not to feel optimism for Calgary's future.

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"We are building a Tier 1 convention centre, which is fancy talk for one of the largest convention centres in the country, which will allow us to welcome conventions and visitors from around the world that we haven't been able to welcome to Calgary before," he said.

Economic benefits touted

The president of the Calgary Stampede, Steve McDonough, said the expanded facility will attract larger conventions that Calgary has missed out on in the past and bring more international visitors to the city.

He predicted that will generate economic benefits both in Calgary and beyond.

"It will benefit the entire province by filling hotel rooms, restaurants, cabs and retail and many will experience Calgary and southern Alberta for the very first time," said McDonough.

An exterior rendering of the BMO Centre expansion at night. (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

The expansion is being jointly funded by all three orders of government.

Premier Jason Kenney calls it a critical project that will give Calgary a "world class" trade centre, allowing it to compete with other cities.

"Let's make sure that happens on time and on budget," said Kenney.

Costs will be monitored closely

The task of overseeing the construction of the massive structure belongs to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC).

The chief executive officer of the city-owned agency, Kate Thompson, said the project is expected to create 1,800 construction jobs.

She said one thing she's watching closely is the escalating cost of construction materials.

"We've gone through some of our bigger tenders, foundation and steel, and are locking those numbers down but we still have a long way to go," said Thompson.

A rendering of the ballroom area of the expanded BMO Centre. (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

"We're watching it. You don't ever want to get too excited before we cross the line."

The BMO expansion is expected to be completed in the middle of 2024.

Thompson said details are still being worked out but it's hoped that some of the historic elements of the Corral arena, which stood on the site, will find a home inside the new building.

CMLC plans to release details on that part of the project in a few months.