SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, turns 25

It has been 25 years since Toronto became the first city in the world with a working retractable roof stadium. Today the facility known as Rogers Centre still stirs debate.

'The world's greatest entertainment centre' still stirs debate

When the SkyDome opened in 1989, it was the world's first stadium with a working retractable roof. (CBC)

It's hard to believe it was 25 years ago that SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, opened.

The world's first retractable roof stadium opened June 3, 1989, in a ceremony you have to watch to believe.

A key impetus for building SkyDome was a rain-soaked 1982 Grey Cup game at Exhibition Stadium. The few fans who  didn't retreat to the concession in the second half chanted "We want a dome."

The SkyDome took two years to build, a process captured in this time-lapse video, also a marvel for its time.

Former SkyDome vice-president David Garrick spoke about those early days on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

He recalls how city council required the developers to spend $1 million to "educate" people about how to get to the dome by transit. Instead of advertising, developers used the money to give free TTC rides to anyone with a ticket to a SkyDome event.

"We bought up the TTC for a month," said Garrick. "People just showed their ticket for that month and 53 per cent of Torontonians took the TTC for the month. Once the promotion was over, it dropped to 19 per cent. It did keep a lot of cars away."

Brian Purdy, who shot the time-lapse video of the SkyDome's construction, recalls how the building "came alive" when the roof slid open at night.

"The city was coming to life, we were very proud of it," he said on Metro Morning. "Toronto was becoming a real landmark around the world."

Since those early days the dome has played host to everything from U2 and Bruce Springsteen to WrestleMania and UFC matches, Grey Cups, the World Series and NFL games.

When Rogers bought the building in 2005, the stadium's official name switched to Rogers Centre. Many still refer to it as the SkyDome, a name that came through a fan-naming contest.

"The World's Greatest Entertainment Centre" was the SkyDome slogan in those early years but as it was opening, the trend in baseball stadium construction swung toward retro-styled ballparks.

The dome has many detractors who consider it a cement pit with little atmosphere. Its defenders wonder aloud how many of those dome-haters would attend an early April Blue Jays game, when snow and sub-zero temperatures are the norm?

Garrick says it's still a great stadium and he's quick to praise Rogers for spending money on upgrades in recent years.

"They've kept the place right up to date," he said.  "Today walking into SkyDome, it looks better than it did 25 years ago."


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