Toronto hockey shrine to be supermarket

Sale on tomatoes at the blue line! Toronto's greatest hockey shrine is to become a grocery store. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Inc., the owner of Maple Leaf Gardens on Carleton Street in downtown Toronto, announced last night it has signed a deal to sell the rink to Loblaw Companies Inc., which plans to turn it into a 6,000-square-metre supermarket.

National Post
October 22, 2003

Toronto hockey shrine to be supermarket
Bought by Loblaws
Peter Kuitenbrouwer

Sale on tomatoes at the blue line! Toronto's greatest hockey shrine is to become a grocery store.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Inc., the owner of Maple Leaf Gardens on Carleton Street in downtown Toronto, announced last night it has signed a deal to sell the rink to Loblaw Companies Inc., which plans to turn it into a 6,000-square-metre supermarket.

Built in 1931 by Conn Smythe, the Gardens was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs until 1999. The team won eight Stanley Cups there, the last one in 1967. The Beatles, Elvis and Sinatra have sung there; orators have included Churchill, Diefenbaker and Trudeau.

In 1999, seeking a modern facility with more space for corporate boxes and more parking, the Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre. Since then, the Gardens has sat empty, used only for the occasional movie shoot and for storage.

In recent years, window casings have begun falling off the front of the building, leaving it in a dilapidated state.

But yesterday, Loblaws, which owns more than 1,000 mainly grocery stores across Canada, said it plans to pour a lot of money — it will not say how much — into the old rink to convert it into a huge store selling not just groceries but also bed and bath supplies, furniture, cooking and table goods, home office supplies and electronics. The Gardens will also feature a photo lab and a pharmacy.

"It's been sitting empty since 1999," said Geoff Wilson, a Loblaws spokesman. "This way at least the site will be revitalized. We will make sure that everyone who is shopping understands the heritage of the building. We're pretty creative."

He noted the company created a Loblaws a few years ago in the Angus Yards, an old locomotive shop in the east end of Montreal.

"We are going to do our utmost to maintain the heritage of the site and revitalize the community," Mr. Wilson said. He would not say how much Loblaws paid for the Gardens.

Bob Stellick grew up at the Gardens, paying his way through university by working in the press box. Later, he became director of business operations for the Maple Leafs from 1985 to 1997.

Last night, he said he figures a Loblaws is better than an abandoned Gardens.

"We always joked that [Steve] Stavros [the former Leafs owner and grocery mogul] would turn it into the biggest Knob Hill Farms," Mr. Stellick said. "We never thought that somebody would actually do it."

One of the Leafs' main problems was the building has no parking. Loblaws says it plans to create some parking by cutting holes in the back of the building on the Wood Street side.

"Loblaws will maintain the existing façades on Carlton and Church and the existing rooflines with the majority of development taking place within the building's interior," the company said in a news release. "Some alterations will be necessary to the Wood Street façade to accommodate delivery docks and parking access."

Maple Leaf Sports did not return calls.

Eugene Melnyk, the Barbados-based billionaire owner of the Ottawa Senators, had launched a media campaign in recent weeks after Maple Leaf Sports refused to sell him the Gardens for his St. Mike's Majors junior hockey team. He offered to rent the place, as an alternative, and prepay his rent for 20 years.

The Leafs said they would not sell him the Gardens because they did not want the competition, not just for hockey but also for concerts and other uses of the Gardens.

Last night, a spokesman said Mr. Melnyk was in Barbados. He did not return telephone calls.

The neighbourhood had been very upset to watch the Gardens sit empty; down Church Street at the Mermaid Restaurant, waitress Gina Bougiotou recently pleaded: "Anything just to get some people around. It is a national landmark. Leave it as a skating rink. I would like it to be something for the young people, somewhere to practise or play."

© Copyright 2003 National Post


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Canada, 20031022 Hockey shrine

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License