Tuesday, December 1, 2009
It has been announced that Ryerson University (alma matter of yours truly) has partnered with Loblaw Inc. and unveiled a new 60 million dollar plan that will retrofit Maple Leaf Gardens and turn it into a state of the art recreation facility for Ryerson students as well as retail space for a "Joe Fresh Style Loblaws".
Included in the plan is:
-A NHL-sized rink
-A four-lane, 200-metre running track
-Basketball and volleyball courts
-A fitness centre
-A high-performance gym
Loblaw Inc. is the current owner of the vacant building. As a result, this deal could not have gotten done without their involvement and a store being featured on its main floor. This is more than a victory for Ryerson University--it is a victory for Toronto as a landmark of this city and the surrounding area will be restored and brought back to life. This is better than a retrofitted condominium, a boutique hotel, or a Wal-Mart. This space will be used for students to maintain healthy active lifestyles, improve school spirit and be a place of learning. Anytime you can turn a vacant, dilapadated building and turn it into a place of learning is a win for the good guys.
For Ryerson University, the benefits are huge. Here's a plan which outlines what I encourage Ryerson University to from this point forward and what this announcement could mean for Ryerson in the years ahead:
Athletics departments do not turn around over night and unlike the NCAA, Canadian universities cannot give out scholarships for top high school athletes. As a result, there is extra importance placed on facilities and personnel. Adding a state-of-the-art facility to Ryerson's resume will make it that much more of a destination for high school athletes and Ryerson is encouraged to ensure that coaching staffs, trainers and management are well experienced, respected executives of interuniversity sport. This began with the hiring of coach Roy Rana for the varsity men's basketball teams and must continue to make Ryerson an ideal destination for athletic talent. Broadening recruitment staff will only help reach the best athletes available and help make sure every pitch is customized to the student's needs.
With a hockey arena on campus with seating structures designed to seat (I estimate) a couple thousand spectators, Ryerson must acknowledge a potential to capitalize on the novelty of a new arena and keep students interested in interuniversity sports. This involves making available full-time positions with the goal of generating revenue for varsity athletic events through ticket sales, concessions, and sponsorships and partnerships.
The new facility must:
-feature individual seats
-concession options as well as a liqour license
-offer an entertaining in-game experience
-be comfortable, inviting and professional
-simulate comparable sporting entertainment
-have competitively priced tickets
If they can manage to accomplish these requirements in designing both the basketball and hockey arena, they will be able to maximize revenue and attract the student population to games. An average attendance of 800 fans per game could generate significant revenue. If tickets are competitively priced at $3 and the average fan spends $5 on concessions, $6400 per game is not unrealistic. The money could then be added towards broadening sports programs. Combined with an added increased in student enthusiasm towards athletics, there could be strong support to fund other interuniversity athletics. Ryerson students voting in support of an increase in tuition to fund this facility is proof of a desire for improved athletic spirit.
Maple Leaf Gardens is located on the Northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street, two city blocks from the north end of Ryerson University's main campus. While the recreation facilities will promote student traffic between the two locations, Ryerson's next step must be to connect the main campus to Maple Leaf Gardens with further university infrastructure. This will encourage traffic of the new facility and make the in between area controllable, nevermind the potential university buildings that could occupy this space.
On the space is three private residential highrise buildings (yellow) which are used by many students and a series of early 19th century homes (green). The blue indicates Ryerson buildings and the Red is Maple Leaf Gardens. It should be noted that the block is generally unpleasing to the eye.
Ryerson does not own this land, so they would need to acquire it house by house by highrise which is an expensive option. This is probably unavoidable but obtaining the land is crucial to create more space for students, improve the surrounding area (which Ryerson must see as a responsibility), and connect it to the athletics centre.
The best way that Ryerson University can leverage this space is through student housing. It represents an extraordinary potential to increase varisity athletics attendance and general use of the facility. Western University in London, Ontario accomodates just over 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on campus while having less students enrolled than RU, which features living space for just over 800 students. And while Ryerson attracts a significant ratio of commuting students within the Greater Toronto Area, perhaps this is a function of its lack of living quarters. In any case, Ryerson needs more student housing for an ever increasing undergraduate and graduate student population. Retrofitting these high rise residential towers and 19th century homes could be an option to consider without having to build entirely new buildings.
A student housing population of 2,000 individuals makes a 10% success rate of varsity sports attendance at key home games a likely possibility with a giant coordinated effort (such as a one or two-off residence night) resulting in solid attendance numbers and increased revenue per game.
Trying to be as detailed as possible, here is what I suggest for Ryerson University's north expansion.
-Expanding marketing/sales staff with full-time employees with goals to generate revenue through ticket sales and sponsorships
-Expanding recruitment staff, hiring well respected CIS coaches
-New Recreation Facility to feature 2,000 individual seats for hockey, 1,200 for basketball
-Several concessions available
-Expansion of a second campus pub within recreation facility
-Purchasing buildings in adjoining area
-Buildings to be retrofitted for 2,000 new beds for undergraduate students including living spaces for 500 graduate students
-Improvements to surrounding infrastructure to continue university culture (greenspace, university banners, signage, etc)
-Explore opportunities to broaden interuniversity athletics (football, baseball)
Ryerson has a long way to go just to keep up with the pace of enrollment, but this is a golden opportunity to capitalize on the novelty of a new athletics facility and to build a sustainable spirited student culture proud of both their in class achievements and on field achievements. The university has been very agressive in their expansion and there is every reason to believe that this will continue in the future.