Inside Shell Place
It appears as you cross an iconic bridge that spans the Snye. It unfolds ahead of you, a soaring structure that encompasses SMS Stadium, a baseball and softball tournament centre, a badminton centre, a field house, the Molson Outdoor Rink, a ropes course, a community pavilion, shared space for community social profit groups and a public park. The Interpretive Walking Trail meanders around it, paying homage to the rich history of the region. Every path on the Island leads you to it, the shining new jewel in the MacDonald Island Park crown. That jewel, glittering under the vast northern lights, is Shell Place.
Shell Place, the $127 million expansion at MacDonald Island Park, began as a vision of what the shared future could be. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) was in the midst of moving towards a redevelopment of the downtown core in Fort McMurray, with the goal of creating a world-class livable city centre. The leadership at MacDonald Island Park determined the time was right for a community-led project based on collaboration and public engagement, one designed to meet the community needs of today and tomorrow.
“The timing is perfect,” says Nick Sanders, MacDonald Island Park Board of Directors Chair. “Our region is looking at exponential growth, and the success of the original expansion at MacDonald Island Park clearly showed the desire the community has for world class recreation, culture, sport, and event experiences. Shell Place is the next step in that evolution.”
A plan that began with community collaboration fostered by MacDonald Island Park ended with a decision from the RMWB mayor and council on July 12, 2012, and the approval to begin construction of what was then called the MacDonald Island Park Expansion Project. Shell Albian Sands was announced as title partner for the project on October 20, 2012. The decision, says RMWB Mayor Melissa Blake, was an easy one.
“The vision was in my mind of how successful MacDonald Island Park had been but how we were still missing pieces for our community. The new expansion plans tied in beautifully with the Municipal Development Plan and city centre redevelopment. Shell Place is something that will make events so much more memorable, make our region so much more capable of hosting big events, but will also prove inspirational for young people in our community,” says Mayor Blake of the potential impact of Shell Place in the Wood Buffalo region.
“Shell Place has the potential to change the face of Wood Buffalo region recreational, sport, and community events forever,” says Tim Reid, MacDonald Island Park Chief Operating Officer. “The SMS Stadium, with close to 5,000 fixed seats and capable of holding over 20,000 fans, creates opportunities we have never experienced in this community. Suddenly we can host events that, prior to 2015, would have been beyond our reality. The possibilities are endless – and exciting.”
The first of those exciting events is the 2015 season-opening exhibition game for the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, a game which will pit them against Prairie rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This game, expected to draw thousands of fans from around Alberta and beyond, is just a taste of what is to come.
“The CFL is truly just the beginning, because that is just the start of what the community can host at SMS Stadium. When you think of the other events we can hold, like concerts featuring international performing artists and other major sporting and grassroots events, and then when you consider that the SMS Stadium is just one facet of the facility you realize that the opportunities Shell Place represents are enormous,” says Reid.
Some of those enormous opportunities are already being realized. “I would suggest that if MacDonald Island Park had not been planning this expansion at the time the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games bid committee was looking for a host venue we would not have been considered,” says Mayor Blake. “The combination of Shell Place and the city centre redevelopment in Fort McMurray makes me see us as a huge draw for conferences and sporting events. The opportunities are only limited by our capabilities, and our capability will be unlimited when we have these assets in place.”
Building on the success of the current full-service and experienced hospitality department at MacDonald Island Park, Shell Place will become the premier northern destination for conferences, meetings, and events. Combined with the existing amenities at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre, already Canada’s largest community recreation centre, such as the Syncrude Aquatic Centre, Total Fitness Centre, Nexen Field House, and neighbouring Miskanaw Golf Club, Shell Place joins a MacDonald Island that has already become known as the heart of the community it serves, and simply adds new potential and experiences to the mix.
“Every aspect of Shell Place has meaning for the community,” says Reid. “The shared space recognizes the importance and value of the organizations that serve so many needs in this region. The interpretive trail acknowledges the rich history and natural beauty of the north, and especially on this Island. The field house celebrates our local sports teams, and our youth. The badminton centre is one-of-a-kind in this region, and gives a home to a sport that is skyrocketing in popularity. The Molson Outdoor Rink, and all the other outdoor spaces that will be utilized year round, speak to our love of the outdoors, and our active lifestyles. The baseball and softball tournament centre provides a place for athletes of all ages to practice their sport and enjoy competition and SMS Stadium creates tremendous new opportunities for sports and entertainment. It’s truly difficult to express what Shell Place will mean for the community, because I think the impact will really only be understood when the doors open in 2015 and we welcome the community to enjoy the facility that they created.”
“When we began the process towards the construction of Shell Place, we encouraged the community to ‘think big’, and when the final result is revealed I believe the reality will be far more than anyone ever anticipated,” says Reid. Mayor Blake agrees. “This is a heralding cry for what the future in this region will hold. These are legacy projects but they are also huge community builders. This is where dreams will be realized.”