Cheers to 10 years!
The John Labatt Centre will officially become known as Budweiser Gardens Thursday as the facility celebrates its tenth anniversary.
It was on this day, ten years ago, the downtown venue first opened its doors and since then, it has played host to 1,389 events with total attendance of 6,615,531 people. Arena officials say the total number of visitors includes all hockey games, concerts and other events.
Since it opened, Budweiser Gardens has attracted countless big name acts to the city, the first of which was Cher who came in 2002 as part of her "Living Proof: The Farewell Tour."
While few would dispute the venue's success now, former London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best can remember a time when she wondered if the facility would ever get built.
"There was a lot of skepticism from the community about whether this was going to be the right project. For those of us that were supportive of it on council, we were quite firm in knowing not only was it the right project but it was the right location. People just needed to really see it built, give it a chance and see how it would change the landscape of our community and in particular the downtown."
The arena's location is the old Talbot Inn which stood at the site for more than 125 years. Part of the controversy surrounding the construction of the facility was the Talbot Inn was a designated heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The original plan called for some of the old bricks from the Inn to be used in the facade but it was ultimately decided they were too old and the Inn itself was demolished. Some of the old bricks were used inside the arena instead while the facade at arena's northeast corner is a replica of the Talbot Inn using re-tumbled yellow brick.
It cost $10 million to buy the land and $42 million to build the arena with London city council agreeing to cover most of the expenses. It was part of a $100-million investment in the downtown which also included a new Covent Garden Market and Central Public Library.
DeCicco-Best says over a decade later she's glad supporters on council stuck to their guns to build the arena.
"There was a time when I wondered if the council had the political will to see it through to the end. But fortunately, enough of us did that we continued to see it move forward. Even now those same people, I'm not sure if they quite will admit that perhaps they were skeptical and didn't support it but have had the courage to say it's a good project for London and glad they were wrong and we were right."
Many businesses close to Budweiser Gardens credit the popular venue with driving more people into the core, fueling business. Over the past ten years the number of residents living downtown has nearly doubled.
Budweiser Gardens has hosted a number of high profile events over the past decade including the 2005 Memorial Cup, the 2006 Scott Tournament of Hearts, the 2007 World Synchronized Skating Championships and the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier. It's now on the verge of hosting its largest event ever, the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships which has a worldwide television viewing audience of 150 million people.
In 2010, it was awarded as the Canadian Venue of the Year at the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards.
Before it was built there were fears the facility would be a "white elephant" but ten years later, DeCicco-Best says it's anything but.
"After ten years it's probably the most successful project we've ever built in this community and has really changed the landscape of London."
Officials with Budweiser Gardens will hold a news conference Thursday morning to officially mark the venue's 10th anniversary.