A Rogers Centre renovation is still in the works for coming years, with a game plan expected to be finalized by the end of the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season, but it may not take the shape that many fans would want.
If you ask Blue Jays fans what they’d like to see in a Rogers Centre renovation plan, we’re guessing a shift from synthetic turf to grass would be high on their lists. In the past, grass at the Rogers Centre just wasn’t physically possible due to the lack of a drainage system and a moveable grandstand to accommodate Canadian Football League action. But with the departure of the Toronto Argonauts, the Blue Jays are in a position to make some serious changes to Rogers Centre — but team president Mark Shapiro says the addition of grass may not be among them:
“(Natural grass) is one of the decisions that has to be made in the context of the broader master plan that we’re still considering,” Shapiro says in an interview. “There is never a question of whether grass is preferred to artificial turf – grass is clearly preferred to artificial turf. It’s only going to be a question of what are going to be the one-time costs of retrofitting the entire stadium to do something it’s not equipped to do, which is irrigate, provide drainage, provide sunlight for times when the roof is not open to keep grass alive.
“Then there’s the annual commitment in costs that would create as well, and then weighing that versus how else you could spend that money on other things. By no means have we made that decision, but we’re going to look at that in the context of the other one-time decisions of renovation and on the annual basis of how else we can spend that money to help us win.”…
The Blue Jays have hired a design firm and at this point, “what we do have is themes that through focus groups and through research and through industry trends and analysis provided clear ideas of what we would be looking to achieve in a re-envisioning – and I call it a re-envisioning rather than a renovation – of the stadium.”
“No. 1,” Shapiro continued, “would be to turn the stadium into a ballpark. Very simply that would be a top priority for us, which means (providing) a modern ballpark experience for our fans. What I would hope is that by mid-summer we have those concepts fully flushed out, a potential set of loose designs, not plans but loose designs along with some costs so I can begin to have those conversations with ownership.”
Given that there are some fixed maintenance costs that can’t be skipped, such as an update of the retractable-roof system, the expense to create a grass-friendly ballpark may be too much for Rogers and the Blue Jays to bear. And, of course, there are scheduling issues: work must be done in the offseason. But there are plenty of ways to upgrade the fan experience by tackling overhauls of the concourses and the grandstand, maybe with some unique new group spaces.
RELATED STORIES: Dirt infield on tap for Rogers Centre; Blue Jays considering grass field at Rogers Centre;