Supermarket at Gardens bad idea, most respond

The poll found that 70 per cent of respondents disagreed — 61 per cent ""strongly"" disagreed and 9 per cent disagreed ""somewhat"" — with the Gardens becoming a Loblaws store.

The Globe and Mail
October 27, 2003

Supermarket at Gardens bad idea, most respond
Marina Strauss

Torontonians don't want a Loblaws store at the historic Maple Leaf Gardens building, a new poll says.
Instead they want to see an amateur hockey arena and hockey museum at the designated heritage site, the survey by Pollara Inc. found.

It emerges a week after Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., owner of Maple Leaf Gardens, announced that Loblaw Cos. Ltd. was buying the building and turning it into a massive supermarket and retail emporium with underground parking.

"People really do believe the community should be consulted on the proper use of the facility," Michael Marzolini, chairman and chief executive officer of Pollara, said in an interview.

The survey of 600 Metro Toronto residents was conducted last week, just before the decision was unveiled, he said. Pollara is the polling company for the provincial and federal Liberal parties.

The poll found that 70 per cent of respondents disagreed — 61 per cent "strongly" disagreed and 9 per cent disagreed "somewhat" — with the Gardens becoming a Loblaws store.

It found that most people don't want the site to become a Home Depot mega-outlet, which was another option that Maple Leaf Sports considered.

The respondents overwhelmingly, by 81 per cent, supported the idea that the Gardens be converted into a large minor-hockey arena and tribute museum.

Billionaire businessman Eugene Melnyk had tried unsuccessfully to buy the Gardens for a reported $16-million last summer to turn it into a junior-hockey team arena.

The latest survey will probably serve to strengthen Mr. Melnyk's resolve to challenge the Loblaw sale at the various stages of municipal and historic board approvals still needed before the deal closes, sources said.

Mr. Melnyk could not be reached for comment.

Loblaw had initially envisioned building its store at the Gardens along with a junior-hockey team arena. But Maple Leaf Sport turned that down, saying it wasn't financially feasible.

Maple Leaf Sport, which also owns Air Canada Centre, had earlier nixed Mr. Melnyk's offer for just an arena because it would have been direct competition with the ACC.

But Mr. Melnyk had continued to pursue the Gardens — separately from Loblaw — to use as the home arena of his Ontario Hockey League St. Michael's Majors, as well as a museum as a tribute to minor hockey.

The survey found that 78 per cent of respondents thought it was "very" or "somewhat" important that the redevelopment of the Gardens "contain some sort of hockey component."

Again, 78 per cent found that it was very or somewhat important that the Gardens "be preserved as a sports and entertainment facility."

When asked about a Home Depot store with condominiums built on the roof at the site — which was the proposal from Home Depot — 79 per cent said they strongly or somewhat disagreed.

The survey is considered accurate plus or minus 4.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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