Saturday, May 31, 2014
The 25th anniversary of Rogers Centre / Toronto's Sky Dome
With the 25th anniversary of the Dome’s official opening fast approaching I thought that rather than rehashing some of those well-known stories who better to ask to tell us a few of the little-known stories than good friend Dave Garrick. When Dave was general manager of the CNE he hired me to pull together the Exhibition’s 100th anniversary (somehow I managed to turn that into a two year event.) In 1975 Dave left the CNE moving east to run the CN Tower, then under construction. From there he went to the new stadium project. Here are a few of his “inside” memories.
On June 3rd, SkyDome will turn 25 years old and after that amount of time some “secrets” have to be let out of the bag.
Two years before the opening of the dome the first panel of the roof (the one that makes a 180 degree turn) was completed and we wanted to test it to see if it indeed worked but we did not want the media to know about the trial in case it did not function. This retractable roof was first of its kind in the world and there was tremendous hype about it. So on the coldest night in February at 3 a.m. in the depths of a very cold morning the “Open” button was pushed and, voila, it turned perfectly, even shoving snow out of its track, to the north end of the stadium. The media never knew.
In the spring of 1987 we held a major naming of the dome contest and the prize would be two tickets to every event in the stadium … for life. Over 150,000 ballots were submitted with some of the oddest suggestions. Names like Condome (to honour NHL hockey czar and Toronto Maple Leaf founder Connie Smythe, I think), Davis Dome (in recognition of Bill Davis, Ontario’s premier from 1971-1985), Dome on the Range and so on.
A ‘blue ribbon’ panel was assembled and from all the names submitted they pre-selected The Dome, Harbour Dome, Tower Dome and SkyDome. Wally Crouter, CFRB radio’s 50-year veteran morning man took the four names and used them as if he was on the air announcing as follows: “It is the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series here at ...” (And he inserted each semi-finalist name). When he got to “Here at SkyDome” the winner was perfectly obvious — SkyDome it was.
Now it was time to select the winner of the contest so I put all the SkyDome submissions (of which there were over 2,000) in a mail bag and took them up to Queen’s Park where a cement truck, with the barrel turning, was waiting.
I put all the submissions in the barrel, backed the truck to where David Peterson, then-premier of Ontario, was standing on a ladder ready to remove the winning entry.
In a stage whisper, Peterson leaned over to me and said, “I hope the winner is from outside of Toronto and I retorted that I hoped it was an old geezer as the prize was tickets for life.” The premier reached in and with a twinkle in his eye announced that the winner was Kellie Watson from Wallaceburg, a young lady in her mid-20s. A win-win for Peterson.
Incidentally, the way the contest was set up we could not check to see if anyone had registered the name beforehand, and, sure enough the next day we received a call from six lawyers from a major law firm who, while on vacation had trademarked most of the possible names with SkyDome being one of them. That afternoon, we visited the firm and the lawyers laid out their demands which included box seats, the use of a SkyBox suite for X number of games and several other perks. We advised that we would be back to them shortly. On the way out of their building, I ran into the office manager, whom I happened to know, and I asked him for a list of his clients.
The SkyDome had 30 major partners who paid $5 million each to receive certain promotional rights to the building. Sure enough, among the law firm’s clients were four partners in SkyDome. Once our partners were contacted they in turn called the law firm and asked for the naming rights to be turned over to us. Within hours the six lawyers had folded like a deck of cards and assigned their SkyDome name to the corporation.
If anyone has ever applied for a major building permit there are always clauses which the bureaucrats add as fodder and upon signing you say to yourself we can get out of those at a later date but right now we desperately need the permit to commence with the project.
Timing was of the essence as there was a penalty clause with the Blue Jays that the stadium had to be ready by June 5, 1989.
The clause that we thought the City would do away with was one that stated that we had to spend $1 million educating the public how to get to the stadium.
We thought this was a no-brainer as the location was right under the CN Tower. However, the City would not bend and they wanted us to commit to the education process.
I called the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and asked them what it would cost to buy up the transit system for one month noting that our riders would be in the evenings and weekends so they would not affect the peak rush hour ridership.
The quote was $600,000 for the month and during that period the public transit ridership soared to 57%.
When the promotion ended the ridership slipped to 20%. Nevertheless, the City was happy and we had saved $400,000 from our original commitment.
The key part of the opening ceremonies was the anticipated operation of the unique roof.
Even though there was a torrential rain storm that evening, on cue we opened the roof and, of course, half the crowd was soaked.
I called Sketchley Cleaners and asked if they would clean any garments worn that night if the customer showed a ticket stub.
Over 7,000 took advantage of the offer including one gentleman who took his drapes in to be cleaned swearing that is what he was wearing that evening.
There are many more stories like the couple making love in the hotel bedroom. Arsenio Hall on his TV show that evening said. “If my wife makes any noise in bed I get excited — can you imagine 50,000 doing the wave?”
The SkyDome has not aged, if fact, it looks even better today than when it first opened. Now, all we need are those wonderful World Series to happen again. Happy 25th and you don’t look your age.
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