Saturday, December 4, 2010

Welcome to Maple Leafs Square! (Post #1)

"Who controls the natural and built environments? Whose designs are adopted and naturalized? Whose meanings gain prevalence and whose benefits are maximized? What parties are in contention on these issues, and what are the stakes for these struggles as well as the outcomes? What processes empower or disenfranchise different groups in these processes?"

- Ann Tickameyer from "Space Matters! Spatial Inequality in Future Sociology." Contemporary Sociology. Vol 29, no 6, 811. (page 17 of the course kit)

This is Maple Leafs Square, the new area built right outside the Air Canada Centre. If you Google "Maple Leafs Square", the first description reads "Maple Leaf Square is a unifying place, connecting people through passionate, pure experiences". While I don't believe this is untrue, I think there is much more to the story. Maple Leafs Square is primarily owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, better known as MLSE, or, to most Toronto fans, the money-sucking company that owns Toronto sports teams. Lanterra Developments and Cadillac Fairview are also managing and developing partners.

Before Maple Leafs Square existed, there was nothing. The iconic pillars were surrounded by a parking lot and it was rather clumsy looking for such a nice new arena.

The space is technically private but is meant to act as a public space when sports are involved. At the start of this NHL season, the NHL held what it called "Premiere Week" with a slew of games across Europe to attract their out-of-market fans. Back on this continent, they held a huge "kick-off" party at Maple Leafs Square with literally thousands of fans - the capacity is 5,000 - screaming as Hedley played a few tracks prior to the puck drop just 50 feet away inside the Air Canada Centre.

But we can only kick off a season once a season, so what about the other days? Maple Leafs Square is home to a variety of enterprises, including Real Sports Bar & Grill, Hôtel Le Germain and e11even (MLSE's very recently opened high-quality eatery) as well as the Maple Leafs Square Condominiums.

Real Sports Bar & Grill was recently named North America's Best Sports Bar by ESPN, which the pride and economic equivalent of winning a Grammy and then signing a 3-album deal on the same night due to the sheer number of sports bars in a gastronomically obsessed country like the United States (the home country of ESPN). I personally follow Real Sports on Twitter where they do a very good job of interacting with their followers and constantly post pictures of what's happening inside the restaurant and what that night's events are. I've also been there to eat and I can say, it's a great place to watch the game even though I found the chicken wings to be good but nothing mind-blowing. The Hôtel Le Germain literally opened up in the past few days (as of November 18th). From the website, the pictures look rather nice but I think it's more about the experience than anything else. e11even also opened this past week and despite its proximity to Real Sports, they cater to a pricier clientele. A quick comparison of the menus reveals most items at e11even are between $5-7 more than at Real Sports.

So we have a mix of residential space (which based on location and other factors is relatively expensive), as well as two eateries - both of which have received a lot of media coverage - and a downtown hotel right next to a stadium owned by one of the most profitable companies in North American sports and Torontonians are supposed to be happy about a new space for them to enjoy the game? I would have say no but according to the Toronto Sun, that's exactly how they felt during the kick off game. They felt like "true fans" while those inside were just the "suits"; considering tickets went for $300 each and watching the game outside was free, I can see that argument but what about when it gets cold? Will people still be willing to brave the elements to watch the game on a giant screen or will they go grab a beer and a burger inside a warm restaurant while Maple Leafs Square remain an empty shoveled piece of pavement with Maple Leafs symbols painted on the ground? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

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