The new nest for the American Hockey League's Toronto Roadrunners has been a fixture for 80 years at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, the scene of countless Royal Agricultural Winter Fair horse shows and the place where soldiers were marshalled before going off to fight in the Second World War.
That may be an omen.
It might take all the king's horses and all the king's men to round up 10,000 people to fill the seats of the renovated Ricoh Coliseum when the Roadrunners, the minor-league affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, begin play there in November.
Minor-league hockey in a city that is essentially owned by the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs could be a difficult sell. But officials associated with the Coliseum, which is about to undergo a $38-million overhaul, are certain the revamped state-of-the-art building will be a hit, even if the hockey team faces a battle.
There are already 115 days of events guaranteed for the first year, and most of those will be regular repeats, Toronto Councillor Mario Silva, the chairman of Exhibition Place, said at yesterday's groundbreaking. Officials envision 200 days of commercial use a year, while the city has 110 days for its own use.
"This is good news," Silva said. "The building will be leased and the city will be getting taxes on it. It will get plenty of use. It's not just a hockey complex. There are regular events during which it will see use, like the Royal Winter Fair, the Exhibition, the sportsmen's show, the boat show, the home show, the Molson Indy car race -- and 41 dates for hockey."
The City of Toronto retains ownership of the building. The city has put $10-million into a partnership with Borealis Infrastructure Management Inc., and the Coliseum Renovation Corp. Ricoh Canada, a document imaging company, has put up $10-million for the naming rights of the building for 10 years, with a five-year option.
Martin Brodigan, the president and the chief executive officer of Ricoh Canada, said that even though the main tenant is a minor-league hockey team, having Ricoh's name on the building represents a big-league opportunity for brand recognition.
Almost five million visits are made to Exhibition Place every year. The building will also be part of the Exhibition skyline, seen by drivers on the Gardiner Expressway.
"To buy just a billboard there can cost $30,000 a month," Brodigan said. "It's a little bit of a leap of faith, but from the point of view of brand recognition in Canada and North America, Toronto is the largest market in this country and the fourth-largest urban centre in North America."
Murray Beynon of Brisbin Brook Beynon, the lead architectural firm in the project, said the Coliseum's old floor will be dug five feet deeper and the roof raised 20 feet, as the seating capacity grows from 6,500 to about 10,000 for hockey and 11,000 for concerts. There will be 38 private suites, air conditioning for summer use, new light and sound systems and the removal of the old columns that obstructed corner views.
Because the building is scheduled to open in November, the Roadrunners will spend their first month of the season on the road, come home briefly, then vacate again for the Royal Winter Fair.