When True North Sports and Entertainment constructed the MTS Centre in 2004, they did so with a number of intentions. One was to provide the Manitoba Moose of the AHL with a state-of-the-art arena to call their home. Another was to create a flexible and versatile building in which, given the opportunity, an NHL team could one day be comfortably housed.
When that opportunity came to fruition in 2011, this foresight proved valuable in the face of the long list of renovations that needed to be completed in the span of roughly 100 days leading up to the first Winnipeg Jets preseason game.
While the adaptability and built-in functionality of the MTS Centre helped to make the transition to the NHL world a little easier, there were still many hurdles for True North to clear between early June and mid-September. Many of the projects to be completed were strictly to enhance the fan experience, though a few were suggested by the NHL to bring the building up to, and beyond their standards in various areas.
“The only projects that were NHL-specific were the ice refrigeration plant upgrade, and the press box expansion,” says True North Director of Facility Operations Ed Meichsner. “Otherwise the building as it currently stood would completely comply with NHL specifications.”
The NHL has a minimum standard when it comes to ice plant capability, which the MTS Centre was below up until this season. The ice plant is now above that standard.
As mentioned, the press box also needed work before welcoming NHL-sized media throngs.
“What we did with the press box is double the capacity by adding another level beneath the existing box,” says Meichsner. “We’ve also upgraded the video edit suite, which now has direct communication with the league office by way of fibre-optic technology.”
With the amount of patrons flowing throughout the building every Jets game, it was imperative that certain aspects of the MTS Centre be modified to hold the increased traffic. One of the largest undertakings was renovating the flooring of the concourses.
“It was a very big job,” says Meichsner. “Between the main concourse and the 300 level concourse it was about 65,000 to 70,000 square feet of flooring that was installed.
There are three main benefits of the new flooring that have Meichsner pleased with the change.
“It brightens the concourses up a lot,” says Meichsner. “The old floor was a little on the dark side. Secondly, it is a much stronger epoxy-based floor that can handle the abuse from the many events that we have here. Also, it has an anti-slip texture to it, which minimizes the risk of slipping and falling.”
Another development directly demanded by the huge crowds at every game occurred at the 300 level concourse.
“One of the renovations that has had the biggest impact on the fan experience is the widening of the 300 level concourse,” says Meichsner. “We removed some fixed walls on the interior of the concourse to give spectators more room to move around. We also got rid of all portable concessions stands and built permanent concessions stands as deep into these new cavities as we could, to provide a wider concourse for the patrons.”
More Jets Gear merchandise outlets were required in the upper level of MTS Centre, too.
“With the 300 level full every game, we added four merchandise locations at that level, including a larger walk-in location in the south end,” says Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Management Dorian Morphy.
Besides the increase in points of sale around the MTS Centre, the other challenge for Morphy was switching visuals in the arena from the Moose to the Jets brand.
“All Manitoba Moose logos and signage in the building needed to be changed in the short period of time we had. The project list was in the hundreds in terms of items that to be updated.
Everything from large banners on the outside of the building to smaller items like the logos on the soap dispensers,” says Morphy.
The dressing rooms in the basement of the MTS Centre also went through a major overhaul in anticipation of the NHL returning to Winnipeg.
“For the Jets dressing room, we renovated the coaches’ offices and medical area,” says Meichsner. “The media area was also expanded.”
It was a lot of late nights, and a lot of long hours. All staff and contractors came through for us.
Another addition was moving and expanding the visiting team dressing rooms. “The security in the NHL is much tighter so we had to do extensive renovations to the visiting team area, creating one large room out of what was previously two dressing rooms. Now visiting teams are closer to the ice, and are further away from the facilities kitchen which is a high traffic area.” says Meichsner.
The room is roughly the same size as the old visitors room, however it is now equipped with separate medical and equipment areas, freeing up additional room for the players.
‘Shutters’ are another new addition to the MTS Centre this season. These are mechanisms found on the overhead rink lights which can be closed to entirely block out light during intermissions.
“The shutters are in place so that we can simulate turning the lights on and off instantly,” says True North Director of Event Production Kyle Balharry. “In the past we could not turn off the lights without waiting for 20 minutes for them to cool down. We use them to enhance the visual media in the building both in pregame and the intermissions creating more of a theatre effect. All visual media stands out much better with the lights off.”
Fans who have attended hockey games at MTS Centre in the past may notice another difference this year, down at ice level.
“This season, the league has mandated a new type of Plexiglass,” says Meichsner. “There are a couple of different systems. We chose to go with a brand new system with transparent posts, so it appears seamless, and it does not sit in the boards, but rather on top of the boards. That’s where you get your huge flexibility from. These pieces of acrylic move a lot.”
This new Plexiglass system benefits fans, players and staff alike.
“It adds excitement to the game,” says Meichsner. “The Plexiglass makes a loud crash when players hit it, and it really moves a lot so fans like that. It is a lot easier on the players, because it has so much give. We are noticing the puck does not take any bad bounces off of it either. And for conversions from hockey to non-hockey events are way quicker now. It used to take about five hours to take glass out for a concert. Now we can do it in an hour and a half.”
The entire MTS Centre renovation project was afforded a condensed timeframe in which to be completed, and no time was wasted in getting started.
“As soon as the announcement (that the NHL was returning to Winnipeg) was made, we were out of the gate, getting things rolling as soon as possible,” says Meichsner. “It was a lot of late nights, and a lot of long hours. All staff and contractors came through for us.”
True North President and CEO Jim Ludlow sensed that a feeling of pride not only among True North staff, but also among contractors, in being a part of such a monumental project aided in the resounding success of the renovations.
“I think that, given the overwhelming response to the NHL being back in Winnipeg, the excitement in the community, province and country, everybody wanted to step up, including the tradespeople,” says Ludlow. “You got the sense that those working toward this goal said to themselves ‘I’m working on the Jets project. I’m working on the inside of the MTS Centre. I’m responsible for the flooring. I’m responsible for finishing the press box. This is a game changer for Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. I’m proud of that.’”