Full speed ahead for MLG

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:39 PM ET

Dormant for seven years, Maple Leaf Gardens marks its 75th anniversary today with word that its long-awaited reincarnation is at hand.

Grocery giant Loblaws, which purchased the famous arena from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., in the spring of 2004, is at last finalizing plans for its super store at 60 Carlton St. An earlier idea to retain a 4,000-seat rink and turn the rest of the Gardens' property into a condo fell through.

Various calls to Loblaws the past few months regarding the delay in its development have not been returned. But Ward 27 councillor Kyle Rae, whose home overlooks the Gardens, has learned the project has a target date of September 2007.

"I'm led to believe the company has been spending time looking at new ways to attract shoppers," Rae said.

LCBO OUTLET

"I certainly want to see the Gardens used again and from what I understand, they hope to open the bricked-up windows and attract as many people as used to attend the events."

One of the project's features is to be a 12,000-square foot LCBO outlet running along the Church St. side.

The Gardens was built in an astounding six months in the midst of the Great Depression, with the Leafs in cramped conditions at their 9,000-seat Mutual St. Arena and in danger of being bought by out-of-town interests.

Team owner Conn Smythe just barely managed the $1.5-million financing, with some workers taking stock in the new building in lieu of pay.

It opened on Nov. 12, 1931, with a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Black Hawks.

It would be the home of the Leafs until Feb. 13, 1999, but also the site of all manner of events, including the first NBA game, rock concerts, conventions and rodeos.


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