SkyDome isn't that bad

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

It is not a fashionable point of view, especially on a day when the owners of the Argos are about to announce plans for their new stadium, but somebody needs to say a few words in defence of SkyDome.

David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, God bless 'em, are doing what they believe is right for the long-term sustainability of the Argonaut franchise. Presumably they'll have themselves a cozy little bandbox in the north end, a place where a crowd of 25,000 really feels like something.

It will be cost-effective, fan-friendly. Hopefully, it will have a unique and appealing character. It will have both parking and transit at the front door. More than anything, though, for the Argos, it will be home and that's something they haven't had since ... well, maybe forever.

Whether people will come to the 'burbs to watch CFL games is a question for another day.

But, lost in the latest solution to the CFL's problems in Toronto is how SkyDome became such an abhorrent relic in the span of 15 years. How does a place go from one of the wonders of the world in 1989, to a has-been in 2004?

Too sterile? Not retro enough? Too quiet? Guilty on all counts. Expensive to visit? You betcha. But before we write it off as a lousy mistake, remember why it was built in the first place.

For starters, let's review what country we live in. Everybody who said 'Canada,' please step to the front of the class.

UTTERLY REVOLTING

Now, think of a day when the weather was utterly revolting. Let's start with yesterday, a prime Sunday football afternoon in October. Now, picture yourself sitting in an outdoor stadium rooting on the Argos, wet, frozen and angry.

After digesting that image, picture yourself sitting in the SkyDome watching the Argos play, wondering, but not really caring, what it's doing outside.

Fortunately, the Argos didn't play yesterday and .... oh gosh, I just realized, it doesn't matter because they have a nice, comfortable domed stadium, close to lots of parking and GO Trains and subways and a zillion bars and restaurants. And who would want to go to a place like that?

I happen to be one of the 55,000 unfortunates who were at the 1982 Grey Cup game at CNE Stadium. That was a day not unlike yesterday when the wind howled and the rain turned occasionally to snow, then back again. It was also the day that then-Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey and then-premier William Davis looked each other in the eye and agreed that a domed stadium was the only answer.

For Ontario residents, SkyDome has been easy to dislike. Nobody gets a kick out of those $650 million surprises. And we like them even less when we realize it's us that's on the hook. For practical purposes, though, SkyDome, the political issue, should be separate and distinct from SkyDome the sports and entertainment venue.

When this place opened, we had never seen anything like it. People came from all over the world, just to see the roof open and close. Who else had a Hard Rock Cafe in right field? Or a high-end restaurant looking down on centre field? And how cool is it to open the drapes on your hotel room to watch the ballgame?

But 15 years is a long time in our modern world. Now, there are fancy restaurants and bars and ferris wheels and even swimming pools in the new stadiums that have been built to look old. SkyDome is yesterday's news.

Ask Doug Flutie how much he liked SkyDome as compared to, let's say, McMahon Stadium, where he used to freeze his hands in November. Places like Edmonton, Regina and even Green Bay may have romanticized the "frozen tundra" but the truth is we in the temperate latitudes would prefer to not deal with the elements.

A guy has to wonder if, 15 years from now when the York University Stadium is at a crossroads, too small, or too far off the beaten path or too uncool, or too exposed to the elements, that folks of a certain age won't pine for the good old days.

That was the time when the Jays used to jam four million people a year into the concrete convertible, a lot of them there simply for that magic moment when the wheels begin to roll, the roof folds back and the stars begin to appear.


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