Report: Toronto’s SkyDome marked for death, redevelopment using public land

Right, so three days ago in a comment thread about whether major stadium and arena construction is likely to slow down in coming years (because of Covid and shifting political winds), FoS reader Aqib wrote,

By my count there are 2 MLB teams (Oakland and Tampa) that are in the market for new stadiums

and I replied,

the Diamondbacks have already said they’re considering a new stadium, the Blue Jays and White Sox have at least been kicking tires, and teams like the Indians and Orioles have talked about significant renovations

and they replied,

Blue Jays? All I heard was that they were looking at refurbishing the stadium to make it a pure baseball park, but that was 5 years ago. Is there anything new?

and I replied,

Nothing lately — that was the tire-kicking I referred to. But you don’t put Chekhov’s gun on the mantel unless you’re going to use it eventually.

By “eventually” I didn’t actually mean “by the end of this week,” but here we are:

The owner of the Toronto Blue Jays wants to demolish the Rogers Centre and construct a new stadium as part of a downtown Toronto redevelopment, according to sources involved in the project…

Rogers Communications Inc. and the real estate arm of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. are working with city, provincial and federal government officials on a plan that would effectively cut the Rogers Centre in half.

The partners would build a new, baseball-focused stadium on the foundations of the southern end of the current facility and adjacent parking lots. The northern portion of the 12.7-acre site would be turned into residential towers, office buildings, stores and public space.

Rogers is also considering building a new stadium on a lakefront site if plans for the Rogers Centre fall through.

The Globe & Mail reports that the project would cost “multibillion” dollars, and would be “privately funded” (by Blue Jays owners Rogers Communications) and developers Brookfield, but “needs numerous government approvals to move forward.” It also would use federally owned land, which raises all sorts of questions about how much the team and developers would pay for this valuable property, and whether the development would pay property taxes (more common for private developments on public land in Canada than in the U.S., but still not a given), and generally sets up the potential for a Canadian version of Anaheim’s “We’re getting market value for our stadium land but also not really” scenario.

The report also says that lobbying records show the Jays and Toronto officials have been discussing this plan for two years, that rebuilding the stadium “is expected to play out over five to eight years,” and that “it is not clear where the team would play if its Toronto stadium is being torn down and rebuilt.”

SkyDome — now the Rogers Centre officially, but still once and always SkyDome — was opened 31 years ago (by Alan Thicke, for some reason), and as noted the Jays have made faint noises about leaving for a new stadium before, so this is slightly less shocking than when the Atlanta Braves owners announced they were leaving their then-17-year-old stadium to move to suburban Cobb County or the Texas Rangers owners announced they would be moving across the street from their only marginally older stadium to one that was the same only with air conditioning. But still pretty shocking! There are, as noted, still a whole lot of unknowns about this one, so I think we can say we’re going to spend much of 2021 discussing all its ramifications. And if we end up spending 2022 on the Chicago White Sox, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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11 comments on “Report: Toronto’s SkyDome marked for death, redevelopment using public land

    1. It would make no sense, moving from the third-largest media market in the U.S. to the 28th. So, I’d say, maybe next June?

    2. I think the lease expires in 2028 or 2029. As Neil said, remaining in the Chicago market probably makes the most sense. My prediction is you will see the team use the Atlanta Braves playbook of heat maps showing a more suburban fanbase to get a suburb to pony up the cash.

    3. Why not just use Tampa (again)?
      I mean, there’s no reason why they can’t add a ponzi element to the old stadium shell game.

      You know, “Tampa is about to lose their team (due to lack of support and a complete unwillingness to build a stadium) so, you know, don’t make us go there because you know they’d love to have us and the fans are just waiting and we have a stadium plan all ready to go as well…”

      In a world where New York teams got some of the largest subsidies in the game so they could keep up with financial power of smaller market teams truly anything is possible.

      1. All kidding aside, if the Sox are going to threaten a move, it’s probably Charlotte (where their AAA affiliate is located) or Vegas (flavor of the month)

  1. The demolition would be a nightmare of epic proportions. I had honestly thought they would scoop out the hotel, leave some pillars standing, and build a glass view/atrium in its place.

    Wild mass guessing: Pop-up stadium (like Empire Field in Vancouver) at Downsview or in the eastern Lakeshore? Or pit the other GTA municipalities against each other to pay for part of it?

    1. @Ty — remember when they tried blowing up the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan? And it totally didn’t work? So they had to send munitions people back into the thing (fortunately nobody got hurt). These things are designed not to fall apart, and generally pretty well.

      Heck, engineers even think the Astrodome is still structurally sound. These aren’t wooden stadiums from 1890 that caught fire if a cigar sneezed.

  2. Hey why is it “someone wrote” I have a name! That being said I was surprised to read this, this morning. The land under the stadium is currently leased. I am not sure where they would place the stadium and other buildings unless they are planning to take out the street south of it.

    1. I didn’t want to call you out by name without asking! But sure, lemme credit you, one sec…

  3. Whoa! Had to do a quick check to see if Nov 27th is actually April Fool’s day in Canada (apparently it isn’t).

    The sudden announcement (ok, sorta) might be shocking, but the overall idea shouldn’t be. Shapiro was allegedly brought in to run the Jays because of his experience “transforming” Cleveland’s baseball stadium. The hope was he could reconfigure SkyDome to make it more baseball friendly. They’ve done a few things, but a concrete dome is hard to turn into anything else.

    They looked at putting real grass in years ago but couldn’t find a way to do it reliably (one of the big problems with the dome is that none of the support services – electrical etc – were designed or rated for “outdoor” use. Hence it is a retractable roof which you can open when it is perfect outside, as opposed to a retractable roof which you can close when the weather is really bad). I recall hearing Beeston talk about the need for “field level airflow” if grass was to be considered, among other problems. When you can’t leave the roof open for any significant period, actual grass becomes problematic.

    As I recall, the original plan (pre Dome) was to build a baseball only facility somewhere out on the old industrial waterfront… so maybe we should have expected this all along. I understood the land under the dome was leased from the railroad (as Aqib suggests above), but I’ve no idea if that is still the case or whether the land owner would be motivated to partner in a subsequent development. Certainly the value of the land is much greater now than it was when the stadium was built.

    Hard to imagine the team playing at a temp venue for years if they do want to rebuild on site. More likely they build a new facility before demolition takes place. Count me among those who don’t believe they will pay the full shot themselves…

  4. If anyone is interested, btw, I wrote an article 20-something years ago for This Magazine about how the SkyDome ended up such a boondoggle:

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