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The Rogers Centre, formerly called the SkyDome, on Nov 26 2020.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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.

The Globe and Mail is not naming these sources because they are not authorized to speak for their companies and the baseball team.

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.

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Rogers is also considering building a new stadium on a lakefront site if plans for the Rogers Centre fall through. On Thursday, Rogers chief communications officer Sevaun Palvetzian said: “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 employees safe, so there is no update on the Rogers Centre to share at this time.”

The Rogers Centre, with its retractable roof, opened in 1989 as SkyDome and cost $570-million, with taxpayers picking up a significant portion of the cost. Its domed roof has become an icon of the city’s skyline. Rogers acquired the stadium in 2004 for $25-million.

The multibillion-dollar renovation would be privately funded by Brookfield and Rogers, according to the sources, but needs numerous government approvals to move forward. While Rogers owns the stadium, the federal government owns the land. A spokesperson for Brookfield declined to comment Thursday on the Rogers Centre.

Rogers and Brookfield executives have been discussing their plans with Toronto’s city councillors and other politicians for more than two years, according to lobbying records. The sources say government officials and the two companies intend to go public with their plans in the new year. The two companies are pitching politicians on a development that builds a vibrant neighbourhood, while keeping the Jays downtown.

The Jays played their home games last season at a ballpark in Buffalo because the pandemic closed the Canada-U.S. border. It is not clear where the team would play if its Toronto stadium is being torn down and rebuilt.

For Rogers, turning a stadium into condos and other developments would allow the company to cash in on a lucrative investment, while creating a better experience for baseball fans – the Jays are expected to move from artificial turf to natural grass.

While the priority for Rogers is a new ballpark near the existing stadium – the approach taken by teams such as the New York Yankees – the sources said the company is also looking at waterfront sites such as the 12-acre Quayside property where Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs abandoned plans to build a smart-city project.

Rogers bought the Jays 20 years ago for US$137-million. Since arriving three years ago, chief executive Joe Natale has frequently talked about raising money or restructuring Rogers with steps that force investors to recognize the value of its holdings.

The Rogers Centre and the Jays are now worth at least US$1.6-billion, according to analyst Adam Shine at National Bank Financial, while the company has a stake in Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors parent Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment worth US$1.9-billion.

“What does the market think about these investments? Nothing,” Mr. Shine said in a report. “Rogers either gets no credit or a materially discounted consideration for these assets.”

Redeveloping the Rogers Centre would allow the company to potentially make more money from its real estate holding at a time when it is spending $2.8-billion annually to upgrade its internet and cable networks and roll out 5G telecom services.

One source familiar with the partnership between Rogers and Brookfield said one option under discussion is the telecom company will put up its lease on the stadium, while Brookfield shoulders development costs. Rebuilding the stadium is expected to play out over five to eight years.

Toronto-based Brookfield is one of the world’s largest real estate owners, with US$108-billion invested in office buildings and shopping malls. The company has a track record for repurposing urban properties. In midtown New York, Brookfield created a seven-acre site by covering railway lines with a concrete platform, then building four office towers and two acres of public space. That US$5-billion investment, called Manhattan West, is now worth more than US$8.6-billion.

After the Rogers Centre was built on former rail yards, Toronto’s downtown expanded to the west, and now surrounds the facility. The stadium is close to a convention centre, hotels, an aquarium and several condo towers. The stadium is also next to a former railway roundhouse that is now a national historic site, complicating redevelopment plans.

Four years ago, Toronto City Council voted to move forward with Rail Deck Park, a potential 20-acre public space created by covering railway tracks north of the Rogers Centre. In a news release, the city said the $1.66-billion project is meant to “unite surrounding visitor attractions (Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Fort York, The Bentway) into a major destination district.” Last year, developer Oxford Properties launched a $3.5-billion, four-tower project just north of the stadium and the planned Rail Deck Park.

The Rogers Centre is considered the last in a generation of multiuse concrete stadiums with artificial turf. In recent years, Jays executives have complained that the facility is aging poorly. Shortly after the Rogers Centre opened, the Baltimore Orioles club built Camden Yards, a retro ballpark with natural grass. Since then, new stadiums in cities such as Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Arlington, Tex., have echoed Camden Yard’s fan-friendly design.


In Photos: Rogers Centre through the years

  • Fireworks burst over SkyDome in Toronto on its opening day, June 3, 1989.The Globe and Mail

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