The two epic escalators at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto have been given a rough ride over the past few years, particularly during the Toronto International Film Festival, when the things tended to break down at the worst possible time. With all film-industry eyes on the city, the mechanically moving steps malfunctioned during the TIFFs of 2015 and 2016, resulting in social-media maelstroms and Himalayan-like treks up to the top of the building and all the auditoriums. It was a national embarrassment and a crazily hyped calamity.
But this year? Once a cause célèbre, the escalator situation currently at the splashy Cineplex theatre is apparently copacetic. One of the 44-foot people movers was completely overhauled prior to last year’s TIFF, and now the second one has received the same extensive modernization. For TIFF’s 2018 edition (Sept. 6 to 16), you might say that things are looking … up.
“This theatre is an institution,” says Jason Scime, branch manager of Kone, the Helsinki-headquartered company that stepped up and oversaw the modernization of the unreliable old escalators and maintains the new ones. “It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Read more: The Globe’s guide to TIFF 2018 movies
Scime, along with Kone project manager Kevin Greer, spoke to The Globe and Mail last week at the Scotiabank Theatre. Kone is a major player, responsible for escalator replacements at Chicago O’Hare Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack, among others. It was on the company’s advice that Cineplex decided to invest in a complete overhaul rather than trying to fix the chronically problematic escalators that were original to the building and an issue from day one.
“It’s a relatively unique set-up,” says Scime, speaking about the Scotiabank Theatre, a hub of TIFF activity. “All the action is on the second floor, so the escalators play a critical role in the experience that our customer, Cineplex, is trying to create.”
In a nutshell, the problem with the original escalators was that they were too long. When the theatre opened in 1999 (as Paramount Theatre Toronto), the technology to deal with the two double-length devices wasn’t up to snuff. Breakdowns were habitual and year-round, according to Sarah Van Lange, director of communications for Cineplex, which took over the building in the mid-2000s. “From the get-go, those escalators have been a problem.”
To solve the problem, the Kone team completely rebuilt the escalators with new components utilizing state-of-the-art technology and methods. The only parts of the old escalators still remaining are the structural steel backbones (known in the business as escalator trusses).
The imposing up-and-down steps can be seen as statement escalators. “They’re memorable,” Kone’s Greer says. “Working on this project has been a great experience for everybody.”
Everybody, but especially the people who handled the barrage of media inquiries during the TIFF breakdowns of the past. “It’s safe to say that no one wanted those escalators to be working more than us," says Cineplex’s Van Lange. "And I hope this is the end of escalator-gate, as it’s come to be known.”
Consider the problem, then, to be de-escalated.