Lets Bring the Blue Jays To Durham!

With the Blue Jays Playing the COVID-19 shortened season at their AAA facilities in Buffalo, and the team exploring the idea of a major renovation with a target budget of around 250-400 Million dollars.  It makes sense that the conversation has now shifted to think about the idea of creating a smaller baseball specific stadium with all the workings of a state-of-the-art MLB facility. The current idea that is proposed is to rebuild the new stadium on the site of the old one. While turning the extra space into commercial and residential real estate. According to media sources , The team plans to partner with Brookfield Asset management, which according to their website is an “ alternative asset manager with over $575 billion in assets. “ 

 Although their plan is to complete this project with private funding. That could change quickly. With real interest being focused on the firms and the contractors that would win the tenders for supplies, equipment and workers. Do they leverage people locally vs province wide vs Nationwide? Does the Construction and subsequent demolition get completed on time?  What effect will all this construction have on traffic in the downtown core as a whole? Will there be a bid for stadium rights, or will it be done by private invite only again? Also, with Toronto in the midst of an affordable housing crisis while a record number of condos and rental units remain empty. Is it really a good idea to create more luxury and high price real estate in the City? With the stadium name rights market back in prime spot. Will they sell the naming rights to the new stadium or name it after Ted Rogers again. As a 20-year naming rights deal could help pay for the construction almost in full. Before getting too deep into those questions, lets take a trip through the history of the Jays home stadiums for context.

The “Mistake by the Lake”

The site of the Blue Jays First stadium, the CNE grounds was originally used in 1879. By the time the Jays moved in by 1977, the stadium had burnt down and had been rebuilt 3 times. Costing about 15 million paid by the City and the province for the latest upgrade to make the stadium up to MLB standards. Housing 54k for baseball. Granted most of those seats were only offered for playoff games and teams with larger draws. Due to them being around 850 feet from home plate. The stadium had tons of problems protecting both the players and fans from the elements. So much so that during the Blue Jays Home opener on April 4th, 1977, they had to borrow Zambonis’ from the Toronto Maple Leafs to clear the field of snow.

 Due to the position of the stadium, with it being so close to Lake Ontario. Coupled with the amount of food waste left after games, it made the grounds a prime site for seagulls. Fast forward to 1983 where Yankees player David Wright was arrested for killing a seagull by mistake when he threw a ball to a ball boy and it hit a Seagull in the head. The nail in the coffin for Exhibition stadium was a year earlier during the 70th Grey cup. Fans were forced to watch the game from the concourse and to make matters worse the washrooms started to overflow. The game was watched on TV by over 7 million Canadians. A Canadian broadcast record at the time. Leading to the people of Toronto to take to the streets the following day. Demanding a dome be built to avoid situations like this. In 1983 Premier Davis set up a committee with the purpose of putting a dome of the site of the Exhibition Stadium.  In 1984, 7 acres of land at the foot of the CN tower was donated for a dome to be built and in 1986 the ground was broken on the “SkyDome”. Exhibition Stadium was destroyed in 1999, only a decade after the opening of SkyDome.

Exhibitionist Stadium

The construction of the SkyDome took about 2.5 years from 1986-1989 completed by Dominion Bridge Company out of Quebec And Ellis Don out of London. To the price tag of $570 million Canadian. Which present day is equal to about 1 billion dollars! This time the construction was paid for by a combination of private and public funding. Both the City of Toronto and the province contributed 30 million each. As well as 5 million a piece from the Labatt’s,Molson, and Carling O’Keefe breweries and the Blue Jays. Lastly 26 other private Canadian companies by invite only bought into the project at the same price tag. For their contribution they received a SkyBox with 4 parking spaces on a ten-year contract. As well as a 99-year exclusion option on stadium advertising. 

From the start of this project many questions were raised. No public tender was held for supplies or equipment. Also, the 26 contracts handed out to companies like CIBC and TSN were not put up for bid. Leaving money on the table.  At the time of its creation it was the first stadium with a retractable motorized roof and a 300 plus room hotel. With 70 rooms that overlooked the playing field. When the Dome first opened a couple was caught on the jumbotron fornicating during the baseball game. Days later a man was caught masturbating during a game in full view of the fans. As he thought the windows were one-way windows. Last such instance happened in 1996. Also, SkyDome was also the last stadium built for both Baseball and Football. As well as hosting regular season games for every major sport outside of the NHL. 

By 1998, Labatt who at the time owned 49% of the stadium filed for bankruptcy and in 1999 the Sportsco International Lp bought the Stadium out of Bankruptcy Protection for 80 million. The Hotel attachment was sold to Renaissance for 31 million. 5 years later, Blue Jays Parent company, Rogers communications acquired the Dome for about 25 million. Roughly 4% of the construction costs. 3 Months Later the Name of the dome was Changed to the Rogers Center. In addition to the name Change. Rogers heavily invested in the upgrade of the Dome. As well as a new Field Turf. The building was home to both the Toronto Blue Jays and Argos but in 2016. The Argos relocated to Bmo Fields. With the hope that the Rogers Center would install a natural grass playing field. As of 2020, the Blue Jays are 1 of 2 teams to have never played a home game on natural grass.

What’s Next?

         Like the plan to build the SkyDome on the CNE grounds in 1984. This idea of tearing down the Rogers Center to rebuild it on the same site will be short lived. If they do come to terms with building one a new site. They would be able to build and demolish the old stadium simultaneously. With the possibility they could even play in the Rogers Center or in the ballpark in Buffalo. Until the new building is ready. Depending on where COVID-19 is this spring and if there is a AAA baseball season.

I know this is a long shot, but Durham would be the best spot if not only for a temporary place to play. Out of the President’s Choice Ajax Pan Am Ballpark. But to Move the Blue Jays home permanently to Durham. Either on the same grounds as mentioned above  or in an area in and around the new Pickering Casino that was just built. Granted either choice would cause a major increase in local traffic. Something many Ajax and Pickering residents may be against. With upgrades just finished at both Ajax and Pickering GO train stations I think it can be achieved logistically from a fan standpoint. When the SkyDome First opened, The TTC allowed game tickets to be treated as a metro pass for that day. Something similar could be done in this situation as well.

         But it cannot go without saying that 2 stadiums that were funded by local Torontonians and Ontarians. Have failed to last more than 25 years. When during their inception they were touted as state of the art in their design and execution. Buildings like Old Yankee Stadium and Fenway park can stay functioning well into 70 plus years of use. Although those stadiums are more of the exception than the rule. With the idea of another billion dollars being thrown into a construction project. I would hope that this time, wherever the Stadium is built , that it lasts for at least 40-50 years before it becomes so behind the times it hinders the franchises ability to sign players and to throw concerts in their own building.

Signing it off ,

Ryley J

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