Forum reborn as entertainment venue

For 72 years, it was home to such Montreal Canadiens greats as Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur....

For 72 years, it was home to such Montreal Canadiens greats as Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur.

But since the Habs moved into their spiffy new Molson Centre digs in 1996, the venerable Montreal Forum – one of the most celebrated sports palaces in all of North America – has stood lifeless.

That, however, will change next spring, when the city’s famed hockey shrine re-opens as Le Forum Pepsi.

The $75-million revitalization project, spearheaded by Canderel Properties, will see the old arena transformed into a state-of-the-art entertainment complex, complete with shops, restaurants, nightclubs, arcades, multimedia shows, and a giant movie multiplex.

‘This is a high-tech-oriented project with a 21st Century attitude,’ says Leslie Quinton, director of communications for Canderel, a Montreal-based property management and development firm. ‘This is an entertainment zone where you can immerse yourself.’

Canderel’s efforts received a major boost in August, when Pepsi-Cola Canada signed on as title sponsor for the facility, which is situated in the west end of Montreal’s downtown shopping core. The deal includes pouring rights in most locations within the building.

Richard Burjaw, director of marketing for the Mississauga, Ont.-based soft drink manufacturer, says the Forum sponsorship represents part of an ongoing strategy to associate the Pepsi brand ‘with the pleasure of life.’

‘The appeal for us is [the fact] that it’s an historic building, and the whole idea of making it a world-class entertainment centre,’ Burjaw says. ‘Our brand and our company have always been associated with quality entertainment, and have a strong history in Quebec.’

Quinton, meanwhile, says Canderel plans a variety of free attractions for visitors to the Forum, and needs a ‘like-minded’ partner willing to participate in these.

‘Pepsi has a strong history in entertainment in Quebec, they have an affiliation with fun and youth and a strong track record in proactive promotions. We can count on them helping to keep the building entertaining. And for them, the Forum is an important icon to associate themselves with.’

Canderel purchased the Forum in 1997, after being approached by the Canadiens organization.

‘We didn’t want the building to go to ruin,’ Quinton says. ‘It’s more than just a building.’

A number of redevelopment possibilities were tossed around – including the notion of turning the building into condominiums – before Canderel hit upon the entertainment venue idea.

Key to this was signing up AMC Theatres as a partner. The cinema chain will provide the ‘anchor’ for the new Forum – a multiplex with 22 screens and stadium seating for 4,500. The AMC facility will occupy approximately 40% of the building’s 310,000 square feet, making it one of the largest movie theatres in the country.

In addition, the Forum complex will boast a CineGrand theatre with a six-story Imax-style screen, along with a group of ‘concept’ restaurants operated by The Sunshine Boys Holding Corp.

Jillian’s, a U.S. leader in interactive entertainment for families and kids, will offer a variety of high-tech games and sports simulators on-site, and will operate a sports bar and bowling alley. The Forum will also feature a variety of retail tenants – mostly those catering to impulse-purchasers, such as Sunglass Hut of Canada.

Quinton says one of the biggest challenges in marketing the new Forum will be reassuring Montrealers that an historic site has not been ‘desecrated.’

‘The Forum already has a strong identity, and we have to re-market the building and its heritage to suit our needs without forgetting the fact that this building is an icon,’ Quinton says.

With this in mind, Canderel has turned to the founders of the Cirque du Soleil to help develop a sophisticated multimedia show celebrating the Forum’s rich history. The ‘Legends of the Forum’ show will be one of the major attractions of the new facility, spotlighting everything from the triumphs of the Canadiens, to the many musical acts (Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Madonna) that have graced the building over the years.

In addition, the new Forum will feature a recreation of the arena’s centre-ice area (complete with the Canadiens logo on the floor) and the scoreboard, along with a section of arena seating, a variety of historical displays and a Walk of Fame.

The trick in all this, Quinton says, is figuring out ‘how to make it relevant to a 16-year-old who doesn’t know who Rocket Richard is, while being faithful to the heritage and tradition of the Forum.’

The renovations to the Forum include an exterior facelift. A new structure is being superimposed over the existing façade – and according to Quinton, this surface area will be able to accommodate three-dimensional and kinetic sign concepts for every tenant, including a large LED screen similar to the one in New York’s Times Square.

Toronto-based TAXI Advertising & Design will work with Canderel on a campaign to promote the grand opening of the Forum, which is expected in late March or early April.

Quinton says marketing efforts will target visitors to Montreal – primarily tourists and the convention crowd. That’s where much of the Pepsi Forum’s revenue is expected to come from.

‘We wouldn’t expect you’d come to Montreal just to go to the Forum, the way people go to Orlando to visit Disney World,’ Quinton says. ‘But we do expect to be the premier family destination once they’re here.’

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- For the love of a good cause: Event marketer Pete McAskile reflects on the power of marketers to make good things happen p.B22