WHEN the revenues from a stadium begin to wane, sports tradition is to demand a new one, whether the old facility is a century old or has barely had time for its concrete to set. Surely, the Jays (along with every other team in baseball) have salivated over the steel-and-brick, baseball-only parks that have sprung up across the U.S. in the post-SkyDome era. But would they really demand a new ballpark, barely a decade removed from their last multimillion-dollar gift from the people of Ontario?
It may not be as farfetched as it sounds. Other sports facilities, after all, have been deemed inadequate at an even less advanced ages than SkyDome. Just look at Miami Arena, about to be abandoned at the ripe old age of 11 for two new arenas – one hockey-only, one basketball-only – rising at largely public expense along the South Florida shoreline. Or SkyDome’s nearest stadium sibling, the Minneapolis Metrodome, which was hailed as a facility for the future when it opened in 1982, only to see both its tenants, the Twins and the Vikings, levy demands for new buildings of their own within a few years. Their complaints should be familiar to Torontonians: Not enough revenue from luxury boxes, poor sightlines, and an “outmoded” stadium that had been superceded by new single-sport parks.
“There was a sense of disbelief, that they can’t possibly be serious,” says Rev. Ricky Rask, a Minneapolis activist for public child care who helped defeat a 1997 proposal to build a new Twins stadium with public money. “God, we just built this thing – okay, it isn’t perfect, but…” After failing to get public money for a new stadium either in Minneapolis or North Carolina, where the team had threatened to move, she notes, the Twins’ owners have now set about gutting the team of its best players, in a renewed effort to arm-twist the public into producing subsidies to enable the team to be “competitive.”
One wild card that could set a stadium push in motion: Toronto’s 2008 Olympics bid. To host the games, the city would need a new Olympic-quality stadium, and the Jays’ owners will no doubt be mindful of Atlanta, which built its Olympic Stadium for the 1996 games, then handed the building over to the Atlanta Braves for transformation into Turner Field – free of charge.
– Neil deMause