HERE I AM: Bryan Adams opened The Arena at Pickering Casino Resort on April 26, with Toronto Blue Jays players among the attendees. (Courtesy Venue) 

The Arena at Pickering Casino Resort, a new 2,500-capacity venue with all retractable seats, has opened in the Greater Toronto Area. Homegrown superstar Bryan Adams christened the facility on April 26 with a sold-out show and vinyl LP signing.

Designed by Chris Dikeakos Architects in association with CGL Architects, the 510,000 square foot, $367.2 million (CAD$500 million) complex owned by gaming company Great Canadian Entertainment includes a casino, nine restaurants and a 275-room hotel. For The Arena, Aligned Vision Group was the audio-visual installer and integrator, and Avio Designs served as consultant. 

VenuesNow spoke with Montreal-born Gavin Whiteley, chief marketing officer of Great Canadian Entertainment, about The Arena, including its retractable seat system produced by SEDA Seating that can be put away or brought out in minutes, its open booking policy, and why acts should choose to play the facility.

VenuesNow: Are just the floor seats retractable?
No, the (entire) building. On the flat floor, we have detachable seats that move away manually. In the front half of the floor, that portion can all go away and be a GA space. The different seating options include full seating for Bryan Adams. 

How do the seats retract exactly?
Picture a triangle and we slide it halfway into the wall and the top half disappears in the wall and the bottom half. The seats can be extend all the way out, all the way in or cut in half. When seating is fully retracted into the wall, it becomes a full GA space. A perfect example is we (had) a boxing event where all seats were completely pulled into the wall. For the GA floor, we build a boxing ring in the middle of the room and setting up banquet tables around the ring for groups of 10 watching the fight.  There’s a balcony area, which we left open for Bryan Adams, with flexibility for photographers or a VIP area. The balcony has its own bar and bathrooms.

Does the capacity increase if it’s fully general admission?
No. There are permits. It’s a 2,500-capacity venue, whether it’s GA or reserved seating. For context, when there is a boxing event, capacity is 1,100 people with tables taking up floor space. 

ARENA SETTING: The Arena at Pickering Casino Resort features multiple configurations thanks to its SEDA Seating retractable seating. (Courtesy Venue)

You called it The Arena. Why?
Because it’s a flexible space. For many people, the term “arena” implies a large sports venue. Because this is a flexible space, “theater” wouldn’t do it justice, wouldn’t be the right description, and it was decided that “arena” really left the door open to being whatever the event wants it to be. Ours is so flexible, that we want to leave it blank but also make it clear like this is an entertainment space and a flexible space that can be whatever you imagine it should be for the event you want.

Who’s doing the booking?
At this moment, it’s myself and my director of entertainment, Elsa Nealon. We have a pending deal with a well-known promoter. I was hoping to have it signed by now. As chief marketing officer of Great Canadian, one of the reasons I came into this role was because I was at Caesar’s Entertainment for 10 years where I oversaw customer loyalty and, before that, entertainment, and had partnerships with Live Nation and AEG in the Las Vegas residency market. It worked well enough that we’d want to do that here too.

How are the amenities for the artists?
We’re a full-service resort, so Bryan Adams]and his crew stayed at our hotel and ate at our restaurants. We have dressing rooms, green room, all that stuff. We put our artists at our new luxury hotel as part of the building. 

What is the appeal for an agent or their management to put an artist into your space, in Pickering compared with Massey Hall or History. Those would be your competitors?
What makes our arena stand out is that the space is completely transformable and can be just about anything you can imagine. We have a full-service kitchen and dedicated hotel and restaurants attached, with tons of free parking. We have solar powered electric car chargers. It’s easy access right off the highway, a few lights and you’re parked.We have free parking. In the winter, it’s real nice to be able to park in a covered lot and walk to the casino.