New Toronto esports, entertainment facility expected to be privately financed

(Photo via OverActive Media)

TORONTO – A new entertainment facility that’s slated for construction on the Exhibition grounds in Toronto is getting set to break ground “early next year” with the expectation that it won’t cost any taxpayer dollars.

OverActive Media, a Toronto-based company that owns a number of esports franchises including the Toronto Defiant and the Toronto Ultra, first announced this facility back in February.

The building is projected to be a 7,200-seat entertainment facility built just to the west of the Stanley Barracks along Lake Shore Boulevard in Toronto with an expected completion date of 2025.

In a recent interview with Sportsnet, OverActive Media (OAM) president and CEO Chris Overholt divulged a few more details about the planned project, including a tentative timeline of when construction would start.

“We've been working for about six months now on the venue,” Overholt said. “We hired Bob Hunter, a former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment [executive], and, really, a key executive leader in that organization for years building BMO Field as the executive representative [on that project] and the Raptors practice facility. So Bob’s been working with us every day on that project.

“We think we’re within 60-90 days from securing the political approvals that we’ll need and we’re close to all of our business terms. … We said from the beginning it’s about a 30-36-month build process and we would like to think that we'll be in a place where we could choose to put a shovel in the ground early next year.”

The project, which will include a hotel complex and entertainment venue, is expected to be in the range of $500-million, but Overholt said it won’t involve any taxpayer money.

“I fully expect that our venue will be privately financed through the ownership of OverActive Media and our investor groups and others that we haven’t yet attracted to the business and also cooperatively with a strategic partner that we’ve been engaged with and talking to for some time,” said Overholt.

This new facility is expected to be the home of some of the esports franchises OAM owns, in particular, the Toronto-based Defiant and Ultra, who compete in the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, respectively.

Beyond that, however, Overholt and OAM have more ambitious plans for the facility and have pegged it as more of an entertainment complex than anything else because the vision for the building is to become a premier event space for some of the world’s largest acts, despite the relatively small seating capacity.

“Seventy-two-hundred seats is quite by design and intention,” Overholt said. “Think about how busy Budweiser Stage is during the summer months. That is a sweet spot for this market and we didn’t take that advice lightly. We sought out the advice of the top venue promoters and operators in the world to give us perspective on what the appropriate venue size should be.

“But think about it: If you're John Legend or Lady Gaga and you've been coming to Toronto for years and years, but you've only ever had one venue opportunity, now you can choose a more intimate experience, maybe position your concert experience in a more premium way and maybe play multiple nights at our venue as opposed to one night in a cavernous arena.”

Executing a vision such as this likely isn't to come cheap, but Overholt and OAM look to have a means to come up with the necessary funds.

On Wednesday, OAM announced it would begin to trade on the TSX.

First founded in 2018 as a startup, Overholt said it’s always been the company’s intent to take the company public and it did so after it managed to raise approximately $100 million in about the three years the company’s been around for.

With word that the intention is to build this new facility through private funds only, going public gives OAM the advantage of being able to raise funds more easily now.

“The principal advantage of being in the capital markets is just access to capital,” Overholt added. “In theory at least, we should be able to raise it more readily and more easily, I suppose, in that context, because that liquidity around the company allows for people to see to see a future in the investment that's right in front of them.”

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