By Vanessa Greco and Carys Mills
It sounds like an unlikely pair.
A man who has built his career on working towards the future, courting a building admired for its rich historical roots. But it’s possible.
From his office at the top of Jorgenson Hall, Sheldon Levy can see Maple Leaf Gardens waiting on the corner of Church and Carlton Streets, unused for years now. As Ryerson winds into month six in its search for a new athletic facility, Levy admits the abandoned building is a serious option.
On paper, many locations could satisfy Levy’s criteria for Ryerson’s new athletic facility. No stranger to real estate, Levy could easily sign off on any available building and demolish as necessary. But only Maple Leaf Gardens gives him the chance to do more than just build. It allows Levy to give Ryerson the style and charisma it so desperately lacks. And it couldn’t hurt his reputation either.
The notoriety that would follow the purchase of Maple Leaf Gardens would cement Levy’s legacy. However, his admitted disinterest in having the new building named after him should already be enough to extinguish any doubts about his intentions.
When he arrived in 2005, Levy found his niche in expanding Ryerson’s campus. Creating a 20-year strategic vision for the university, Levy quickly took to work, announcing his plans to purchase Sam the Record Man and establish Ryerson’s doorstep on Yonge Street.
“What he’s really done is brought Ryerson into being a city builder,” said Mitchell Kosny, Ryerson’s interim director of urban and regional planning. “He uses that phrase everywhere, but he really walks the walk.”
Years before Levy began drawing attention to Ryerson, Maple Leaf Gardens drew crowds of wide-eyed hockey fans who’d line up around the building in anticipation for a game. The arena hosted 11 Stanley Cups and some of the most legendary musical talent of its time. Its walls are practically steeped in history — one thing that Ryerson could use a lot more of.
“Ryerson owning Maple Leaf Gardens would be an enormous boost for the community,” said George Smitherman, MPP Toronto Centre and deputy premier.
While scoring the historic Gardens would give Ryerson the notoriety it needs to compete with its more prestigious counterparts like the University of Toronto, the purchase will undoubtedly secure Levy’s already sterling reputation as a leader.
“The more exciting the venue, the more of a testament to his leadership,” said Bob Rae, MP Toronto Centre and former premier, referring to Levy and the Gardens as a match made in heaven. And rightfully so.
During a recent interview with Levy regarding his interest in Maple Leaf Gardens, the president cocked his eyebrow playfully and offered to list off every single player on the Toronto Maple Leafs 1967 roster.
Without hesitation he begins to list them all from memory — in order of their jersey numbers no less.
Although Levy seems to have a knack for naming his own personal heros, he admits that when his term as president is up in 2015, he doesn’t care whether Ryerson remembers his own legacy, whatever that may be.
“What would mean most to me is if in 15 years from now I’m walking around seeing students of that generation being proud of their university and thinking I contributed to that,” said Levy. “If it were Maple Leaf Gardens that did that… I’d get a kick out of that.”