Late last week, the Globe and Mail broke the news that the Rogers Centre, a downtown Toronto landmark and the first major sports stadium to boast a fully retractable motorized roof, could be demolished and its main tenant, Major League Baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays, relocated to a new, smaller venue custom-built for baseball. This all comes as part of a massive redevelopment scheme headed by stadium owner and Canadian telecom giant Rogers Communications, and Brookfield Asset Management, Inc.
Opened in 1989 beneath the shadow of the CN Tower as the SkyDome, the aging, and in-need-of-major-upgrades, Rogers Centre is the only remaining multi-purpose stadium in North America built to accommodate both baseball and football (it previously hosted the Toronto Argonauts) and has also served as the backdrop for a countless number of concerts, conventions, and monster truck rallies over its 31-year history. The Rod Robbie-designed structure also uniquely features a 348-room Marriott hotel within the stadium complex with 70 rooms that, somewhat notoriously, directly overlook the field. Rogers Communications, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays, acquired the former SkyDome in 2005 and prompted the name change.
Following the Globe and Mail’s story, which was based on information provided by multiple unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the raze-and-replace plans, Rogers Communications released a brief statement to national news agency the Canadian Press that didn’t corroborate the details of the Globe and Mail’s reporting but did confirm that team ownership had been looking into “options” for the stadium that have since been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were exploring options for the stadium but through this year our primary focus has been keeping our customers connected and keeping our employees safe, so there is no update on the Rogers Centre to share at this time,” said Rogers spokesperson Andrew Garas in the statement.
One detail identified by the Globe and Mail’s sources was a potential location for the new privately-funded stadium if it is not ultimately built on the site of the current stadium: the lakeside parcel where Alphabet Labs’ Quayside smart city project would have risen if it hadn’t been fully scrapped earlier this year. Per the sources, the downsized new stadium—roughly half the size of the Rogers Centre—would serve as the centerpiece of a mixed-use waterfront development project.
Waterfront Toronto, the agency tasked with administering revitalization projects along Lake Ontario, was blindsided by the report. “The news this morning was the first Waterfront Toronto has heard of the Quayside site as a potential new home for the Blue Jays,” Andrew Tumilty, a spokesperson for Waterfront Toronto, told the Canadian Press in an article shared by CBC News.
If the new stadium is indeed built at the current Rogers Centre site as part of a downtown redevelopment project, which appears to be the leading option per the Globe and Mail’s reporting, its smaller footprint would allow for residential towers, commercial office space, retail, and public parkland to populate the northern half of the site. And in a dramatic change-up for the Blue Jays, the new stadium could also potentially feature a natural grass surface in lieu of artificial turf.
Wherever the new stadium is built, Rogers will face a number of formidable obstacles, namely zoning. While Rogers owns the stadium itself, the land it sits on is held by the Canada Lands Company and is expressively zoned for a stadium and not for other usages, including residential, as reportedly envisioned by Rogers and Brookfield. It’s also unclear where the Blue Jays would play after the Rogers Centre is demolished and before the new stadium is built.
Due to pandemic-related international travel restrictions, home games for the Blue Jays during the 2020 MLB season were held at Sahlen Field, a large and highly influential “classic-retro” minor league ballpark in downtown Buffalo, New York, that opened just a year before the SkyDome.