The pursuit of Carlton’s cathedral

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Ryerson has had its eye on owning Maple Leaf Gardens ever since the Leafs moved out in 1999. But the Gardens has proved to be a costly cougar to court, leaving it derelict for the past decade.

The history of Ryerson’s relationship with Maple Leaf Gardens is the story of a young suitor courting a fickle, and very pricey, older woman. The Gardens have gone up for sale time and again, and each time Ryerson has hesitated to make the move.

The first opportunity came in fall 1999, when developers approached then-Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse with plans to rent out space within the Gardens to the university. Lajeunesse had been looking a long time to establish a new business building, and the upper portion of the Gardens would have been large enough to house the business school as well as student residences. Below them the arena would have been used for the hockey and basketball teams.

An architect’s study completed a year later determined the move to be too expensive. As part of its heritage status the roof and exterior walls of the Gardens must remain intact, but this also includes the bleachers holding up those walls from the inside. According to the review, on-campus development would have been cheaper than renovating the Gardens.

Loblaw, one of the few bidders for the property, purchased the Gardens in 2003 and planned to install a Superstore. Only three months later, Loblaw put the Gardens back on the market after considering the property too expensive to renovate. Ryerson moved in for the purchase, but backed away from negotiations. The elusive lady remained just out of Ryerson’s financial grasp.

But it did not leave its mind.

When Sheldon Levy took over the helm in 2005, he made his intentions towards the heritage site very clear.

“I would love to buy Maple Leaf Gardens,” he said in an interview. “I know it’s been sold, but if we had a chance to get it back for varsity and intramural hockey, community skating, and maybe a chance to combine it with something like student housing I would leap at that opportunity.”

He met with Loblaw to talk about these possibilities but the company rebuffed him; they were determined to go ahead with their plans of a Superstore. Mayor David Miller also liked Loblaw’s proposals, and going against him would have made future development for Ryerson more difficult.

Even if the arena were open to host the Ram’s hockey games, a price tag of $4-5,000 per game would be too much for the athletics department. Were Ryerson to own the Gardens, however, we might all wish for the same magic that brought repeated victory to the men’s hockey team back in 1968, a time when championships were plenty and their home turf was shared with the Maple Leafs.

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