Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens gets C$60 million facelift

TORONTO (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Gardens, home to Toronto’s National Hockey League team, the Maple Leafs, in its glory years, has found new life after sitting empty and dormant for 10 years.

The Canadian government, a local university and Loblaw Cos, the country’s biggest supermarket chain, said on Tuesday they will spend C$60 million ($57.5 million) to transform the downtown building, opened in 1931, into a retail and recreation complex.

Maple Leaf Gardens was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs until the team moved to the more modern Air Canada Center near the Lake Ontario waterfront in 1999.

It became an always sold-out hockey institution during the Depression when games were broadcast across the country on radio. Later it was home to Hockey Night in Canada television broadcasts on Saturday nights.

The Leafs won the Stanley Cup, the NHL championship trophy, 11 times while they played there, the last one in 1967.

After its facelift is completed in 2011, the revamped Gardens will feature a new ice rink for Ryerson University teams, an athletic center for Ryerson students and a supermarket on the ground floor.

“We needed to do something special with Maple Leaf Gardens,” Loblaw Executive Chairman Galen Weston told a news conference on Tuesday. “This is a great example of how business, academia and government can work together to deliver a great result.”

Loblaw bought the arena from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in 2004.

Maple Leaf Gardens was built during the Depression by then Leafs owner Conn Smythe at a cost of C$1.5 million. Tickets for the opening night game between the Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks ranged between 95 Canadian cents and C$2.95.

Since then it has hosted Elvis Presley, the Beatles on three occasions, and the 1972 Summit Series between Team Canada and the Soviet Union’s national hockey team.

($1=$1.04 Canadian)

Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Peter Galloway