Toronto Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro announced plans for $300 million worth of renovations to Rogers Centre that will take place over the next two to three off-seasons.
Fans can expect to see considerable changes to the 33-year-old stadium come next April, Shapiro said during a news conference Thursday. This will include a new outfield fence line that aims to provide new angles to the game.
“[I]t will not be a symmetrical outfield fence — there will be some uniqueness to both the height of the outfield fence throughout the outfield and the dimensions,” he said, adding that the details will not be revealed just yet, but the coming alterations will keep pitcher-hitter fairness in mind.
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Major changes to the bullpen are also expected during the first phase of renovations this off-season. Shapiro said the bullpens will be raised to fan level, which, he said in jest, could “potentially discourage” opposing relief pitchers.
“I think they’ll enjoy some of the hometown flavour, as our fans will be right on top of the visiting bullpen and the home bullpen,” he said.
‘Most undesirable seats’ being changed
Changes are also coming to the right-field corner, currently considered “some of the most undesirable seats.” Shapiro said there are plans to remove them and put in decks around the foul pole that will feature bars and group spaces. Construction for that section will be announced at a later date.
Fans can also say goodbye to the nosebleeds.
Acknowledging that the 500 level is the least popular place to watch a game, Shapiro said renovations this off-season will see those seats completely removed and replaced with non-ticketed spaces, splitting between a family-friendly side and a bar-focused side akin to a rooftop patio.
“What we want to create in the right field side is the best rooftop experience in Toronto when the roof’s open in the middle of the summer, with the game going on in the background,” he said, adding that those seats almost never sell.
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The players haven’t been forgotten about either, with plans for a new family room for the players, a 5,000 square-foot weight room and a staff locker room, according to a news release.
Additional plans for the 2023-24 season will see major changes to the 100 level that will include premium clubs and social spaces. Construction to the clubhouse and player facilities is also planned for that time, the news release said.
The renovations will reduce capacity, but Shapiro doesn’t see that dipping below 40,000. The current capacity is about 46,000. Meanwhile, no changes are being made to the roof or field.
Shapiro said the renovations could take up to three off-seasons to complete, given potential supply chain issues.
Fans get some, but not all wishes
Rogers added a few tweaks during the most recent offseason, such as LED lights and a new scoreboard. But the multipurpose venue hasn’t seen any fundamental renovations since it opened as the world’s first stadium with a retractable roof.
CBC Toronto recently posted on the Blue Jays subreddit to ask fans what they wanted to see. Some of their ideas included:
- Replacing artificial turf with natural grass.
- Bringing in more local and better food and beverage options.
- Improving seat direction, spacing and comfort.
- Celebrating local baseball history through art, murals and memorials.
- Renovating the dome to bring in more natural light.
Some commenters were hoping to see the centre revert back to the original SkyDome name and the return of the “Ice Cold Beer Guy” at games.
Toronto resident Matt Marek says making way for statues of iconic Jays players like Joe Carter or depicting moments like José Bautista’s bat flip in 2015 would hit a home run with fans.
“I think we could get rid of the [Ted] Rogers statue and bring in some old players,” said Marek, 40, who’s been a fan since he was a kid.
“I think fans would love that. Fans have been vocal about that, and I think we deserve it also.”
Burlington resident Ben Eastman also wants to have more activities to do or things to see beyond the actual game, as the stadium is currently “lacking in a little bit of soul.”
“Especially with ticket prices, when you go nowadays, you really want to have other stuff to do rather than just watching the game and going home,” said Eastman.
What’s also needed, he added, is a re-think of the stadium’s layout. Cooling stations to combat heat waves and improved accessibility in seating and washrooms would help modernize the building, he says.
“I just really hope it goes toward things that have a functional improvement on everyday experiences,” said Eastman.
A hopeful payoff
Toronto architect Mark Berest — a principal at B+H Architects who has worked on several sports venues, including Regina’s Mosaic Stadium — says keeping Rogers Centre not only saves a part of Toronto’s brand, but also energy and emissions from having to demolish the building.
He adds the industry has heard rumours of what the renovations would look like. He says Rogers is likely going to be improving the quality of seating, the concourse and making the overall stadium more “intimate” and in line with old-time ballparks that fans love.
“There are lots of ways they could make it, and I think they intend to do this [by focusing] on improving fan experience, which is important.”
Pickering resident Rachel Ho wonders exactly what could be changed at the stadium to make for a better fan experience.
“It’s the same as when I was a kid because nothing has really changed,” she said. Ho says the topic was top of mind for her during Tuesday’s Jays game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
She hopes the renovations put the stadium back on the map and take after some American baseball stadiums that Jays fans wish they had instead.
“It’s an exciting time that hopefully pays off in the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
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