Last week we alluded to Toronto city officials debating the future of Rogers Centre. This week, it sounds like there’s been plenty of preliminary talk between team ownership, Rogers and developers about that future—with some big plans potentially in consideration.
When Rogers Centre opened as SkyDome in 1989, it was the first retractable-roof ballpark in Major League Baseball, though several had been proposed since the late 1940s: the legendary designer Norman Bel Geddes, for example, drew up conceptual images of a Brooklyn Dodgers retractable-roof ballpark as far back as 1948. In its day, the SkyDome was an engineering marvel; besides the retractable roof, the grandstand was movable to make way for the longer and wider CFL playing field.
Since then, there’s been plenty of other retractable-roof ballparks built—Chase Field, Marlins Park, T-Mobile Park, etc. And the design that made the retractable roof possible in 1989 is a liability today: the huge footprint needed to support that massive roof puts much of the ballpark seating far from the action. The Blue Jays have made some moves to address that shortcoming over the years, including some new premium seating and concourse upgrades, but the aging ballpark certainly needs some TLC.
The consensus among the major players that the Blue Jays face a long-term facility challenge, and the debate is how to address that challenge. Rogers Communications owns the ballpark (buying it for $25 million in 2005), and the likelihood is that no public money would be available for a Rogers Centre renovation, the issue, as raised by Mayor John Tory, is whether the Jays stay at Rogers Centre or pursue a new ballpark elsewhere in Toronto.
It looks like the Blue Jays are looking more at a significant upgrade to Rogers Centre, rather than pursuing a new ballpark. Which makes sense: no reason to give up a prime location at the foot of CN Tower.
Past that, the discussions of the future of Rogers Centre are in preliminary stages. But we can see a higher-level strategy at play here, with reps from Brookfield Asset Management involved in discussions and meetings with the city. Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management manages some $385 billion in assets across some 30 countries, according to the firm’s website, and at the very least Rogers is looking at putting some significant money into the ballpark and, likely, some associated development. We already know that ballpark-centered developments can be a success, as witnessed by the Atlanta Braves and The Battery, and there’s certainly the potential for some level of development around Rogers Centre. (Not as much as at SunTrust Park, to be sure: the area around Rogers Centre is already built up.) From the Toronto Star:
Blue Jays chief executive Mark Shapiro, who in the past has noted some of the ballpark’s deficiencies for fans, on Thursday called the site “one of the most unique, if not the best, locations in major league baseball for a stadium.
“That, combined with the age of the facility, creates a dilemma as how do you best attack what is a large-scale project, and becoming a larger-scale project in consideration,” Shapiro told reporters.
Changes already completed or under way include refreshing the stadium’s 100 level, adding a Ticketmaster Club and installing a new roof, he said. He added that future options being explored by Rogers are “bigger than I initially considered.”
It takes big plans to generate big rewards. We’ll see how big Rogers and the Blue Jays are thinking in coming months.
Archival photo of Rogers Centre.
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