TORONTO — When Mark Shapiro talks of building a sustainable winner, most of us think about the team on the field and a roster filled with in-their-prime players competing for AL East titles on a year-in, year-out basis.
But there’s much more to the Shapiro regime’s philosophy of sustainability, and the key project all along for the 53-year-old executive has been the venue his Blue Jays call home.
While Shapiro’s Blue Jays legacy will ultimately have a lot to do with how the baseball team performs on the field, he could have a hand in changing the Toronto skyline if the club’s vision for a new — or immensely improved — stadium comes to fruition.
A Rogers Centre renovation project has been talked about on and off since Shapiro arrived in 2015.
There have been batting-cage whispers ranging from large-scale renovations — think blowing up half the building and redoing most of it — to brand new lakefront plots of land to extensive cosmetic and fan-friendly changes to the existing bones of what was formerly known as SkyDome.
Publicly, Shapiro has hinted at both when asked and he has not been shy about the need for stadium upgrades, despite declining to go into specifics of what those could ultimately look like.
After a quiet period of more than a year as the team focused on renovating its Dunedin complex and other smaller-scale restructuring, a Globe and Mail report Friday says a plan in conjunction with Brookfield Asset Management Inc. to demolish Rogers Centre as part of a privately funded multibillion-dollar redevelopment has been talked about.
According to the Globe’s Andrew Willis, citing anonymous sources, the plan would see a stadium project sit at the south end of the current site, with residential towers, office buildings, stores and public space to the north.
If plans fall through, a contingency includes building a new stadium on a different plot of lakefront land.
The project to demolish Rogers Centre and build a new stadium would have a five-to-eight-year timeline, according to the Globe, and still needs "numerous" government approvals to move forward.
In other words, it’s still in the idea stage and there may be more whispers to come as public discussion begins and the Jays continue to work through their options.
There’s no questioning where Shapiro’s work is focused these days, however, as the Jays, despite the prime downtown location, have one of the worst stadium situations in Major League Baseball at 31-year-old Rogers Centre.
On the field, the Jays are in good shape, both talent-wise and in terms of the payroll, with all of the club’s bad contracts — even Troy Tulowitzki — off the books.
The club also just completed a multi-million dollar renovation to its Dunedin player development facility and spring training stadium, leaving the ballpark at home in Toronto as the next major item on Shapiro’s checklist.
Even if the timeline of when the Jays are supposed to be a contender (pretty much now) and when a new stadium would be ready (at least a half-decade from now) doesn’t necessarily match up, it’s the clear next step in the franchise’s evolution.
Potentially in the city’s skyline, too.