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Maple Leaf Gardens reborn ... as what?

TORONTO -- More than 12 years after it closed its doors as the city's sports palace, Maple Leaf Gardens was reborn two weeks ago when the first phase of its redevelopment opened. As a Loblaws. Yes, a supermarket. But don't laugh.

I went and checked it out a couple times over the last two days and it's a spectacular example of urban re-use. And it really makes you shake your head even more about what wasn't done down at the Aud, which is still a big, ugly hole in the ground.

And it's only Phase I. The next part is taking the upper floors of the old arena and converting them into a new home for the Ryerson Tech athletic program, specifically the hockey team. So there will be hockey played in the next year or two at the old barn. That part isn't open for viewing yet (but if you click on the link and play the Toronto Star video, you can see what's inside).

I went to maybe a half-dozen Leafs games at the Garden, three of them with our late friend/News Sports Reporter and Leafs fan extraordinaire Tom Borrelli. (I do wonder what he would think about the Gardens as a supermarket!).

The Loblaws is even better than the cavernous Wegmans that we see back in Buffalo. There's an 18-foot wall of cheese, a deli with slabs of meat behind glass, a pizza/pasta/prepared foods station that is just huge. There are pastries, chocolate, seafood, everything you can imagine.

But what I like is they just didn't just bulldoze the place and plop a supermarket in. They understood this was Maple Leaf Gardens. The marquee out front has been reborn for starters (above left). Inside, there's exposed brick. There's a giant Maple Leafs logo statue hanging above an escalator -- made of old blue seats from the building (left).

The tables where you can sit and eat have glass tops that cover old clippings of all kinds of events from building's glory days, from hockey to wrestling to Billy Graham. There's a giant mural near the entrance that replicates one that used to be in the building. and there are several old Gardens seats in front of it for you to rest. There are poles in each shopping aisle showing great moments in the building's history (right).

And there's even this: In aisle 25 -- directly next to the Spam (really!) -- there's a big red dot on the floor (left). There's no sign telling you what it is (there should be; take care of that, Loblaws). What is it? The exact spot where center dot was on the old rink.

Now that is pretty cool.

You can read all about the store and the Loblaws project at this link. There is also a neat virtual tour that really gives you a good view of the place's features. The video is on this page and you have to click on the virtual tour.

You can read about Ryerson's new athletic complex at this link.

You can also click on all the pictures for a closer look.