The Pickering Arena

Aligned Vision Group provides flexible, future-proof solutions for Pickering Casino Resort’s primary venue, The Arena

As a multi-purpose event space designed to host a wide range of programming, including concerts, boxing matches, and corporate and special events of all descriptions, The Arena certainly lives up to its name. Featuring retractable seating and highly flexible sound, lighting, and video infrastructure, the venue was purpose-built to accommodate virtually any configuration incoming clients require for their specific needs, and, since opening in April 2023 with a sold-out Bryan Adams show, has hosted numerous events including ‘in the round’ boxing matches.

The Integration Team at Aligned Vision Group (AV Group) worked closely with consultant Nathan Haynes of Avio Designs Inc. to ensure the systems and infrastructure inhabiting the 2,500-capacity performance space fit their client’s needs to the letter in what was very much a 360-degree project with AV Group providing audio, video, lighting, networking and rigging systems for the venue. 

“It’s a 2,500-capacity venue, whether general admission (GA) or reserved seating,” explains AV Group Business Development and partner John Coniglio. “For context, when there’s a boxing event, the capacity is 1,100 people, with tables taking up floor space. On the 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 concert seating. When seating is fully retracted into the wall, it becomes a GA space,” he adds, citing a boxing event where seating was removed, and a boxing ring was placed in what would be the centre of the GA floor.”

“The original design intent for all these systems was for them to be portable to meet the requirements for multiple configurations,” he continues. “But we had to develop a hybrid approach because some technology will be in place permanently.” Consequently, AV Group provided portable cabling and hardwired infrastructure with all digital audio transmission over Dante or AVB.

It’s the type of project AV Group’s team – Coniglio, David VanVeldhuisen (Senior System Designer), Guy Wallace (Senior Project Manager, Partner), and Andy Foord (Engineering, Partner) is uniquely qualified for. AV Group welcomes complex, large-scale projects – but regardless of the job scope, always keep the big picture and the granular details in mind every step of the way. “It comes down to making sure every bolt needed for rigging, every connector on a panel, every wire, is in place,” VanVeldhuisen says, adding that’s often one of his favourite parts of a project. For VanVeldhuisen and everyone at AV Group, this isn’t just business. “Working on these theatres is a joy – always has been, so these become passion projects.”

“We were on site for three months because we put a huge fibre backbone in this facility,” Wallace says, explaining that the installation took place between January and March 2023. “David’s brilliant at seeing the big picture and the extreme granularity of detail, and we worked very collaboratively on the design of the rigging to make it as flexible as possible, using core principles we’ve used for years, a rigging bar design that’s quite flexible, allows us to place the points where needed, goes together quickly, and can be used it in all sorts of applications.”

The system was designed during the later stages of construction with the requirements of the audio, lighting, and video infrastructure top of mind and includes one-ton and half-ton motors and control by Applied Rigging of six motor locations on stage for the PA, as well as other locations in the house for boxing or other events that may use the space in a different configuration.

Before AV Group became involved a pipe grid was installed above the stage and in front of the proscenium, stretching out into the middle of the audience area. “From a structural standpoint, that was challenging,” VanVeldhuisen says. “That would be great if this were an event facility where you’re just hanging lights here and there, but if you want to hang truss and speakers off motors, that grid is in the way because it’s using all the structural points we would typically hang motors or loudspeakers from.” To address that, he adds: “We built custom spanning bars that utilized the pipe grid to support and distribute the weight and then converted that into rigging points for motors and speakers.”

The venue’s needs for flexibility and rider-friendliness were top of mind in providing every element of the design/build. “We had to keep in mind that it’s not just a concert venue, that the client needed to be able to reconfigure the room, and required a setup for all of their use cases,” Coniglio notes. “That was one of our main considerations.”

When it came to providing an audio system capable of supporting the need for a concert setting, events, such as boxing, with a central focal point, and the myriad corporate/special events that will ultimately use the facility, AV Group provided a dual system – a Meyer Sound PA for mains, and an overhead system comprised of Tannoy loudspeakers (thirty Tannoy DVS8Ts and eight VSX118s) for foreground/background music.

“The room’s meant to be an event space, so the overhead system provides a secondary audio system,” VanVeldhuisen explains. “That was Nathan’s idea, and the Tannoy loudspeakers provide nice low-end and complete coverage to supplement an event or for pre-show/intermission music.”

The main and overhead systems can also be used in tandem, with the overhead system providing primary sound reinforcement for conventions or in an in-the-round configuration and the Meyer system in play to augment that as needed, for example, providing playback of music when fighters enter The Arena.

For mains, the Meyer System is comprised of Left/Right/Center elements, subs, delay, front fill, and out-fill boxes: nine Meyer Leopards per side for L/R arrays, a centre hang of nine LENA compact line array boxes, three 900-LFC subs in a cardioid configuration per side, and six 900-LFCs underneath the stage. Meyer UPQ loudspeakers are deployed for delay and outfills, with Ultra-X20s as front fills. System control is managed using Meyer’s Galaxy platform via four Galaxy 816s. The monitor system is also Meyer Sound: MJF-210 compact wedge monitors, UPQ-D2s, and 750-LFCs for side or drum fills. Two Midas Heritage 96 consoles are deployed for control – one at FOH and one for monitors with shared I/O and 144 inputs.

“The Galaxy system is quite flexible, particularly with AVB wiring, which we’re using here,” Wallace notes. “From the consoles, we’re coming out Dante into an AuviTran device that converts that (signal) to AVB for the Galaxy network, so all of our digital audio transmission is either over Dante or AVB, but the infrastructure is all hardwired.”

Meyer was one of several options the client had requested. Coniglio notes: “When the client reviewed our proposal with Nathan Haynes of AVIO Designs, their consultant, GCGC, liked the Meyer solution.”

“The choice of Meyer for us was fairly simple,” Wallace adds. “It provided the intended coverage, gave us the flexibility of control through the Galaxy software and a familiar interface for touring artists – you can hand guest engineers a Microsoft Surfaces tablet with the Galaxy software, and most will know exactly what to do.” Additionally, given the client’s requirements for a portable system design, he continues: “Going with a self-powered loudspeaker system simplified things because we could run single cables to each main hang back to stage left where we have our DSP rack and power distribution as opposed to having to deal with multiple amplifier racks, which makes the system much more flexible and easier for accommodating various configurations easily for the end user.”

For future flexibility, Meyer’s Spacemap Go Immersive platform can be integrated if the client requires it and as immersive sound penetrates deeper into the industry.

A Shure Axient Wireless microphone system was also included, which, with Shure’s new ADX transmitters with ShowLink remote control, can automatically switch transmitters/receivers to another available frequency if necessary, which is ideal for use in a frequency-rich environment.

Like the Meyer rig, a Clear-Com intercom system was chosen for rider-friendliness, flexibility, and future scalability. “That was part of my presentation to the client as to how we could support them post-opening should they need more intercom components,” Coniglio says.

The intercom system combines wired and wireless comms and is based around the Arcadia Central station, which Wallace describes as “an expansion of HelixNet and FreeSpeak II, allowing for higher density of beltpacks per access point and therefore better coverage and flexibility for the space using fewer access points.”

For lighting, AV Group provided a system with similar flexibility. “All of the instruments are Robe, SGM, Clay Paky, and ETC – predominantly hung in the house position for stage use, but they do utilize it for boxing mode, so we put in additional points and motors over the centre lighting truss specifically for that,” Wallace says.

In all, the lighting system incorporates twelve Robe Robin T1 Profiles, twelve T1 Wash elements, ten Clay Paky Tambora Battens, eight SGM Q8s LED wash/blinder fixtures, as well as ETC Source 4 Series 3 (LED ellipsoidal) fixtures, ETC Desire 7 LED Fresnels, and ETC ColorSource CYC – ten of each. Additionally, there are two Robe BMFL Robo Spots and a Robo Spot Controller for follow spots.

Control is managed via an Avolites Diamond 9 Console with DMX distribution via Pathway PathPort UNOs, Quattros, and multiple Luminex Network switches. “The clients drove the choice of both the audio and lighting consoles, VanVeldhuisen notes, “which worked out well because the Diamond 9 is partnered with an Avolites Q3 server that drives all their video, which is a great combination.”

“We also have an LG video wall – all 3.9 mill panels – located upstage that can accept regular video signals or signals from the Avolite YC3 server,” Wallace notes. Again, the video wall can be reconfigured or added to if necessary.

In addition, AV Group designed and deployed substantial networking infrastructure consisting of multiple physical networks as well as multiple VLANS to separate Digital Audio (Dante & AVB), Control, Intercom, DMX, and IP video streaming and a network router to allow bridging across the various networks at various points. The system includes multiple Netgear M4300 series fibre switches with 10 Gigabyte links to various Netgear M4300 and M4250 edge switches located in both fixed and portable rack locations. “Managing that took a lot of time, but it’s very robust, and every portable rack has multiple Network connections that trunk back to a central rack via fiber,” Wallace notes.

“We also have a Crestron control system for control of video and audio routing in the lobby spaces and backstage area,” he continues. “We used Aurora’s 1Gb IP streaming product for video distribution and provided eight Aurora VLX-TC1 IP video transceivers in portable enclosures for flexibility, which can be used as either transmitters or receivers. The Crestron control system recognizes them and allows users to reconfigure them (as necessary) for their purposes. Once set, they appear on the Crestron User Interface as either a source or a destination. Integration of the house lighting controls for The Arena was also added, as the lighting system did not include tactile controls for the user.”

It’s an impressive and complex project that depended heavily on the substantial design chops and expertise AV Group brings to the table collectively, the class-leading service and support they offer, and a willingness to collaborate to achieve the client’s desired outcome without compromise.

Coniglio highlights the benefit of long-term relationships between the client and AV Group, dating back to Coniglio, Wallace, and VanVeldhuisen’s time at Westbury. That relationship, Haynes and AVIO Designs’ lengthy association with the client, AV Group’s experience in this space, and the responsiveness of vendors like GerrAudio Distribution made this an ideal situation for AV Group. “They were a dream client; they wanted to listen to our recommendations and were a pleasure to work with,” Coniglio says. “It was a great experience. 

Granted, AV Group brought its own ‘dream team’ to the table, Coniglio says, citing Wallace, VanVeldhuisen, and Andrew Foord’s contributions, and the ‘whatever it takes’ ethos that’s core to AV Group’s culture, an ethic that benefits every client previously and only deepens over time.

“Some companies go to the end of their scope, and that’s it,” Coniglio sums up. “We’ve never done anything like that. We are all passionate about these projects. We’ve worked together for over twenty years, so our years of experience help us identify early on in a process what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. And we’re not averse to changing things so the client gets exactly what will work for the facility and work for the client, even if that’s not what was put on paper initially.”