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Sad SkyDome Story
30/11/2004

David Peterson built it for $600-million. On Sunday, SkyDome was sold for a mere $25-million.

Looking at the role that Paul Godfrey has played in the building's story should tell you a bit about the grand schemes that are promoted by these characters that are found at the intersection of big business and politics. Godfrey, as chairman of Metro Toronto helped sell the idea of building the building in the first place. Now, he's part of the organization that bought it 15 years later for 4% of the original price.

Anyway, SkyDome was the wrong stadium at the wrong time.

I was about 17 when it opened, a very serious baseball fan who loved crossing the river to see the Tigers play in Detroit. All the stadiums built in recent decades had been horribly massive, uninviting, non-traditional sarcophagi that sucked the life out of the game. I think this opinion was widely held by baseball fans to the point that it was common knowledge.

Someone may remember better than I, but I'm pretty sure that there was talk in Toronto of doing something better than the recent norm. People talked about real grass, etc. But in the end, the business schemes took precedence over the baseball traditionalists. The city got a new sarcophagus with a novelty roof.

Toronto ignored the common knowledge, but we were one of the last to do so. The next baseball stadium to open up was Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was built with the interests of fans in mind -- what a concept! -- and has been both a financial success and a great influence on everything that has been built since. (It was also one quarter the price of SkyDome.)

Maybe I'm pushing it a bit, but I see a potential analogy that can be made between SkyDome and the sort of suburban sprawl that they just keep building. Long after many buyers have expressed a preference for the old kind of comfort and enjoyment that comes from living in a traditional walkable neighbourhood, they still have a hard time getting it without paying a premium to buy into an established downtown neighbourhood.

It takes a certain sort of vision to listen to the customer in a new way, as was shown by the builders of Oriole Park.


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