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Future of Rogers Centre in Play?

Rogers Centre 2005

With no clear plan to renovate the 30-year-old Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays and the city may be looking at an entirely new ballpark down the road, as the team and the city explore the facility’s future.

When the SkyDome opened in 1989, it was an engineering marvel, a retractable-roof facility where the roof actually worked. But it wasn’t just the roof that opened: the stands behind home plate also moved to make room for a wider Canadian Football League field, as the SkyDome hosted both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts. And in those first years of operation, SkyDome (later renamed Rogers Centre in 2005) was wildly successful. But over time, the fans drifted away and the limitation of the facility became apparent. The standards for ballparks would soon change, however, with MLB shifting toward baseball-only facilities, Oriole Park at Camden Yards opening in 1992 to start the retro design movement, and later retractable-roof venues surpassing Rogers Centre in terms of design and amenities.

That Rogers Centre needs TLC has long been acknowledged by Blue Jays officials, but coming up with a game plan has been an elusive goal. Replacing synthetic turf with grass was deemed to be unfeasible (a drainage system would be expensive, and in the early season snow and ice prevents the roof from being opened), and the huge ballpark footprint needed to support the roof represents a challenge to creating a more intimate fan experience. Mayor John Tory says it may make more sense to build a new ballpark, preferably in downtown Toronto, than to renovate Rogers Centre:

“I think you’re going to see some action because they have a decision to make, do they invest more in it or do they actually try to replace it?” Tory said yesterday on Newstalk 1010….

Building an entirely new ballpark may be more cost-efficient, but it’s unclear where it would be built. Downsview Park has long been considered an option. It would also free up land downtown to build more housing. But Tory says he’s not necessarily a fan of moving the stadium out of the downtown core.

“You can have real tailgating in Downsview, among other things,” he said. “But I just think before you immediately say ‘gee that land is more valuable for something else’ you might want to consider the positive impact having that stadium downtown has had over many years in the downtown of the biggest city in Canada.”

One reason to consider renovation versus new ballpark: the area surrounding the ballpark is attracting investment dollars.

Archival photo of Rogers Centre; it has been spiffed up since then with new turf and new videoboard.

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