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praise for new Varsity Centre in Toronto...


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http://www.thestar.com/Sports/article/168618

from Sunday January 7th, 2007 Toronto Star

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Downtown's new delight

RICK EGLINTON/TORONTO STAR

It's out with the old Varsity Stadium, home to 30 Grey Cup games, and in with the spacious new Varsity Centre (pictured) as construction nears completion.

VARSITY CENTRE almost ready for unveiling, U of T rebuilt the historic site on its own and got it right

January 07, 2007

Garth Woolsey

It's sacred sporting ground, the patch of prime real estate at the corner of Bloor St. W. and Devonshire Place in downtown Toronto, site of 30 Grey Cups and memorable moments that have spanned three different centuries.

Legends have been born there, heroes raised and bums buried. In recent years, though, the site of old Varsity Stadium had taken on the look and feel of a real graveyard, where more dreams were in danger of dying than ever again might be born.

The grand old Varsity grounds, including the venerable arena as well as the stadium site, had become a battleground of another kind – venue for a political football game worth tens of millions of dollars and involving many of the city's heavyweight movers and shakers.

At points it appeared that yet another historic Toronto site would be sacrificed to developers' avarice. Was there room in the heart of our city for the beat to go on? Could the University of Toronto get it right?

Take a stroll along Bloor St. west of University Ave. these days and the answer is yes, resoundingly. There's room to breathe. Wide and open and, in many ways, better than ever. Right as rain and what a relief.

The new Varsity Centre under construction there, west of the Royal Ontario Museum's own massive facelift, is aimed at the thousands of University of Toronto students. But the new artificial turf playing field, covered recently by a gleaming white inflatable dome, and the rest of a project totalling $61.7 million by its completion, is also targeted at the larger community.

Unmistakable even to the casual observer, openness is one of the themes both architecturally and philosophically. Where formerly a high, long, imposing brown brick wall blocked out most Bloor St. views of the old stadium, demolished in 2002, there is now a people-friendly plaza and unobtrusive fence affording wide-open views.

Architects have compared the new Varsity to a scaled-down Camden Yards in Baltimore, the baseball stadium that helped establish a return to old-fashioned sporting vistas after stadiums for decades had outdone each other setting new standards of grey and drab.

This is a much smaller-scale project, though, with seating for 5,000. In its heyday, way back when, Varsity packed in more than 27,000 for football.

The school isn't saying exactly when the 64-by-107 metre bubble, 18 metres high, will open for business, but it will be any day now, pending various inspections and certifications. Activities will include indoor soccer and, unique for the area, a golf driving range. The bubble will be deflated and removed for the warmer months.

Construction has been frantic, including most weekends, since last March and while it continues, much of the first phase is completed. The track needs only to be given a surface in the spring; dressing rooms under the bleachers are finished.

All 5,000 seats have been located on the east side of the track and playing field, allowing for connection to venerable Varsity Arena, which itself will be spruced up big-time later in the multi-phase project. The historic rink is eight decades old, making it a civic treasure. The new construction leaves it more hidden than ever from public view, but at the same time bonds it to the whole site and makes it more accessible.

Also in the works, pending fundraising by the university, is a high-performance sports centre which will be part of the U of T academic program and is expected to attract many Olympic-level athletes, coaches and researchers.

The school's administrators, after several false starts, have charted a course away from the perils of partnership with pro sports interests. Through the past two decades, all sorts of schemes were discussed to revive the site as the stadium fell into obvious neglect and disrepair. In 1992, the football program was nearly scrapped altogether for lack of funding.

There was talk of erecting a 25,000-seat stadium that would have been operated by ubiquitous Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The CFL's Toronto Argonauts and Soccer Canada played footsie with the U of T and the various levels of government promised varying amounts of support for this blueprint or that one. In the end, the university chose to go it alone – it invested the first $21.7 million and has launched a capital campaign to raise the remaining $40 million.

The first major private donation, $1.7 million, came from the Davenport Family Foundation to name the eight-lane, 400-metre track after late patriarch John L. Davenport, a former captain of the U of T track and field team who won the Canadian pole vault championship in 1928.

Since its first incarnation in 1898, Varsity Stadium has played host to 19 Vanier Cups and 30 Grey Cups. One of the 1976 Olympic soccer semifinals was played there, as were many games involving Canada's national soccer team. The Blues hockey team has a tradition dating into the 19th century and it was a team of U of T alumni, the Varsity Grads, who won the Olympic gold in 1928.

The stadium/arena have seen pro wrestling, Royal visits, political conventions and concerts, including 1969's iconic Rock 'n' Roll Revival, featuring the Doors, Alice Cooper, Bo Diddley, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Plastic Ono Band. The latter saw John Lennon on stage with an all-star band, including wife Yoko Ono, who emerged on stage from a white canvas bag.

Some 38 years later, there's a much larger white bag/bubble on the same site, full of its own surprises.

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I agree with the general gist of the article that this was the best choice for U of T, as I've said before.

There's a chronology of construction photos here. One of those photos, from November 22, 2006:

a177_Nov_22_06T.jpg

I understand that the field has to have both football and soccer lines at the same time, but I don't understand why the football lines have to be so dominant — especially since there will surely be much more soccer than football played on it.

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Guest Jeffery S.
quote:Originally posted by DJT

I agree with the general gist of the article that this was the best choice for U of T, as I've said before.

There's a chronology of construction photos here. One of those photos, from November 22, 2006:

a177_Nov_22_06T.jpg

I understand that the field has to have both football and soccer lines at the same time, but I don't understand why the football lines have to be so dominant — especially since there will surely be much more soccer than football played on it.

Has anyone heard about a system where lines on field turf are done with fiber optics in the "leaves of grass", so that you can turn them on and off depending on what is being played?

This was explained to me when I was watching a 7th division game on a new generation turf field near Barcelona, I was quite surprised by it. It means not painting, but setting up a system where anywhere you could have lines you have specially prepared turf that can be "illuminated", basically by flicking a switch for the sport in question.

I wonder if this is in place anywhere, and how much more it would cost.

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I guess the many great soccer games involving the who is who in the world don't count,nor the Toronto Croatia and Toronto Metro's team as well as the Toronto Blizzard.Pele,Beckenbauer,Juventus,AC Milan and Ajax. Here we go again that effen media treatment. Hey we count, we exist and we matter.I have known Garth for abouit 25 years and he has no love for our game at all. Anyway one day he will disappear as will the others.

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quote:Originally posted by john tv

I guess the many great soccer games involving the who is who in the world don't count,nor the Toronto Croatia and Toronto Metro's team as well as the Toronto Blizzard.Pele,Beckenbauer,Juventus,AC Milan and Ajax. Here we go again that effen media treatment. Hey we count, we exist and we matter.I have known Garth for abouit 25 years and he has no love for our game at all. Anyway one day he will disappear as will the others.

Sounds almost like a threat! [}:)];)

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So is the bubble part of the facility? Or is it something that goes up during the bad weather to allow for maximum use of the facility?

It looks like a nice tight little park. For use for CIS sports, I think they've done a good job.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I drove by the new Varsity yesterday. The stands look very nice, way better than those rickety old stands they had before. The Varsity sight is an excellent location for a sporting facility. This will be a very nice facility to watch a variety of sports. I am quite certain that this will become a good venue for important CSL matches if the rent is fair. Does anyone know if the Lynx PDL squad will be playing at Centennial again this year?

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