TORONTO -- For 33 years, Rogers Centre has been a multipurpose stadium that happens to host Major League Baseball games. That’s about to change.
With a $300 million renovation that will take place over the next two offseasons, the Blue Jays plan to transform the stadium into a true ballpark with modernized fan experiences and enhanced player facilities. The project, which is privately funded and the first large-scale renovation in the building's history, will begin this winter.
“It’s going to be a dramatically different look on Opening Day of 2023,” Blue Jays president/CEO Mark Shapiro told reporters at Rogers Centre on Thursday. “The largest focus [is] modernizing fan experience. Taking a 1980s perspective of what an experience was, and turning that into a 2020s [notion] and beyond of what compelling fan experience should be in our modern sports entertainment landscape.”
Phase 1 of the project will begin in the 100 and 200 Levels of the outfield, where “social spaces” are being prioritized alongside traditional seating options. This means patios, drink rails, bars and viewing platforms that will allow fans to move through the stadium as the game goes on. The Blue Jays also plan to raise the bullpens and move 100-Level seating closer to the wall, bringing fans closer to the action.
In the 500 Level, two new “social decks” will be added to left and right field and all 500-Level seats will be replaced from the originals when the building opened. The goal is to create a more viewer-friendly experience from everywhere in the venue, addressing a long-time issue derived from the multi-purpose nature of the current layout.
The organization also hopes that facilitating a more viewer-friendly experience and adding social-gathering spaces for families and casual fans will help foster the game of baseball in Toronto.
“There is not a night here during the season that we are not having conversations about how to engage a more diverse group of fans,” said Shapiro.
In terms of player amenities, the Blue Jays based their project on the blueprint of their Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla., completed in 2021 and which has received exceptional feedback from players. The organization has paired up with Populous for architectural design, the same company behind the Dunedin renovations that helped turn the old facilities into a modern hub for the Blue Jays’ Major League and Minor League operations year-round.
The first phase of renovations will see the addition of a 5,000-square-foot weight room, a players’ family room and staff locker room.
“A large group of people in our organization has spent time thinking about how to create support for our players' kids, our players' wives and families and friends as they're enduring the journey of a long baseball season away from their primary homes,” said Shapiro.
Phase 2 of renovations, taking place between the 2023 and ’24 seasons, will shift the focus to overhauling the 100-Level infield seating. This will include the addition of premium clubs at field level and social spaces. This phase will also round out the renovations of player facilities, which will include clubhouses.
The Blue Jays don’t anticipate any major issues or delays in the conclusion of the project, but potential setbacks are part of the reason why the renovations are set to spread out over three offseasons.
“This project would not be possible without the support of Edward Rogers, Tony Staffieri, and our Rogers ownership group,” Shapiro said in a press release, “who have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the Blue Jays, both in fielding the best team to win championships, as well as in the infrastructure needed to create a modern ballpark for our fans and players.”
But this announcement doesn’t change the organization’s long-term plan to overhaul the current stadium, either by building an entirely new ballpark at another Toronto location or by investing in even larger renovations for the current one.
“This is a medium-term solution,” Shapiro told reporters. “What does that mean? I'm not sure I can put an exact year on that, but 10-12 years, something in that time frame. We still will need, at some point, the undertaking of: What does a new ballpark or a massive renovation of this existing stadium mean?”
The first part of the project is expected to start as soon as the Blue Jays’ 2022 season ends and conclude shortly ahead of the 2023 Opening Day.
“This renovation to Rogers Centre will deliver an enhanced ballpark experience for fans of Canada’s team,” said Edward Rogers, chair of the Toronto Blue Jays and chair of the board, Rogers Communications, in a press release. “So they can gather to cheer on the Blue Jays and make cherished memories with family and friends, as they have for the last 33 years."