Bulletin No. 7

April 9, 2006

Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens is a group this since 2003 has been dedicated to helping protect the interior and exterior character of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a building which has played a significant role in the collective memory of many Canadians. Our web site ishttp://friendsofmapleleafgardens.ca.

In this issue:

1. After five years, hope of a grand future.

2. Current negotiations

3. What’s next

1. After five years, hope of a grand future.

When Air Canada Centre was opened in early 1999, the Maple Leaf hockey team was moved there and the Gardens was locked down. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Corporation didn’t want competition with the ACC, so purchasers for the Gardens were told the place couldn’t continue as an ice rink.

In 2004 Loblaws, Eastern Canada’s large grocery chain, agreed to buy the Gardens – “the cathedral of Canadian hockey in its gold age” – for $13 million make it a giant grocery store. The mayor and city council were asked to ensure that ice would continue, but the politicians almost unanimously sided with Loblaws. In our discouragement at the lack of political support, as a group Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens became inactive.

But no one has been able to figure out how to economically renovate the structure for a grocery store, and the building has sat vacant and locked tight on Carlton Street for ten years. We argued it could become the centre for women’s hockey in eastern Canada, a hockey rink for Ryerson University, and a city rink for people who live downtown – while at the same time incorporating a Loblaws and other shops. But no one was interested, and the company was unwilling to talk.

Then, late last month, there was a tiny ray of light. CBC Television said it would be filming a seven week special, to be aired starting in October, called Battle of the Blades to take place on Maple Leaf Gardens ice. The program apparently pairs hockey players and figure skaters. There will be a live studio audience – although it will be at a remote location, not in the Gardens since most the seats have been removed.

But the ice is still there, and the building would again spring to some kind of life.

And then, last week, both Ryerson University and Loblaws announced they were in discussions to allow the rink to be used by Ryerson, and some of the building would be converted into a Loblaws store.

2. Current negotiations

Ryerson University, which is located just a few blocks south of the Gardens, has had an interest in the Gardens since 2004. University president Sheldon Levy has been clear that Ryerson needs a new athletic centre, and he has said the Gardens may be a place for that. But for good reason, Levy has not pushed the matter. He has many other issues on his plate, including the redevelopment of a chunk of land on Yonge Street for a student centre, and the approval of a new campus plan, which requires the support of Toronto City Council. The last thing Ryerson could afford was a struggle which did not have governments on side.

Perhaps Loblaws recently took the initiative – it is not clear. But both Loblaws and Ryerson have confirmed that they are talking about how the structure might accommodate both their needs.

Then, on Sunday September 20, the Toronto Star reported that the parties had approached the federal government in Ottawa to secure Infrastructure Program funding – an arrangement where the federal and provincial governments each put up one third of the cost of a program, providing the applicant can come up with the other third. The Star also reported that Mayor David Miller said the city had no money to invest in the project.

It is not known how much money has been applied for – presumably just renovation funds, not funds for the purchase of the structure – or whether Loblaws and Ryerson could somehow find a third of this money themselves.

We have no question but that the structure can be reconfigured to include a hockey rink, a large Loblaws store and other facilities as well. There’s no need for 15,000 seats – 4-5,000 seats would be plenty, and that would free up considerable space within the shell of the building. We have argued that Ryerson should partner with the City of Toronto (so members of the public could also use the ice, and the city could share in the expenses) and with some women’s hockey teams which need prominent space in Toronto. (See the proposal following Bulletin 6.)

3. What’s next

Our group has been dormant so long we aren’t quite sure what to do next.

We want assist successful negotiations, not frustrate them. We are not sure the best way to do that. Should we call a public meeting, and if so, what do we ask? Should the pressure be put on the mayor and city council to get them active? Or is that a losing cause?

At the moment we are attempting to learn more information, and when we do we’ll propose a course of action.

What we do know is that it would be dynamite if Maple Leaf Gardens once again became a public venue.

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