Officials with Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., are expressing excitement at the province’s plan to increase capacity limits at certain venues where proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required.
During a news conference on Friday, the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, said the Ontario government was cautiously expanding capacity limits for many indoor settings requiring proof of vaccination, such as sporting events, concert venues, cinemas and convention centres.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, capacity limits at those venues, including Budweiser Gardens, will be increased to 50 per cent of capacity or 10,000 people, whichever is less.
For outdoor events where people are standing, the limit will increase to 75 per cent or 15,000 people, whichever is less, while for outdoor venues where patrons are seated, the limit will be 75 per cent or 30,000 people. Proof of vaccination will now be required in outdoor settings where normal capacity is 20,000 or more.
“Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Ontarians adhering to public health measures and going out to get vaccinated, some of our key public health and health care indicators are currently stable,” Moore explained in a statement.
He noted, however, that Ontarians need to remain vigilant, continue adhering to pandemic measures, and work to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Nearly 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have gotten both necessary shots.
As the new limits don’t take effect until Saturday, the London Knight’s pre-season home game on Friday against the Barrie Colts will still be limited to 1,000 people. But in exactly one week, when the Knights play their next home game against Hamilton, Bud Gardens will be able to host roughly 4,500.
The Oct. 1 game will be the first event at the venue under the new capacity limit. In pre-pandemic times, Budweiser Gardens’ capacity was up to 9,036 people for hockey games and up to 10,200 for certain concerts.
“This is what we’ve been hearing is going to happen, and it did happen, and that’s pretty exciting, actually,” said Brian Ohl, general manager of Budweiser Gardens, in an interview with 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs shortly after Moore’s announcement.
“We haven’t gotten details, and we’ll be obviously going through this. The devil’s always in the details, you know, like ‘OK, what does this really mean?'”
Patrons to Budweiser Gardens have to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter the venue, excluding those with valid medical exemptions who have to provide a negative COVID-19 test conducted less than 48 hours before the event. Masking is also required, except for when eating or drinking.
“The regular season is fast approaching and it’s an exciting time for everyone,” OHL Commissioner David Branch said in a statement Friday following Moore’s news conference. “This announcement only amplifies that energy as the League and its member teams look forward to welcoming more of our great fans into venues across the province.”
Like many venues in Ontario and across Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for Budweiser Gardens.
Earlier this year, the venue’s 2020 annual report showed an overall loss of $648,422 for the 2019-20 fiscal year, marking the first time Budweiser Gardens has reported a financial loss since it opened in 2002.
With the last 18 months in mind, for Ohl, Friday’s announcement by the province was welcome news.
“We, along with a lot of other venues, have been at the forefront of requiring the vaccines and doing all that,” Ohl said. “Just because we’re trying to show the province that we’re serious about this, and we really need to get back open, get back to business, get people back to work, and get people back to being entertained and having something to look forward to.”
The OHL’s regular season begins Oct. 7, with the Knights’ home opener taking place on Oct. 8.
Budweiser Gardens is slated to host the 2021 Canadian Country Music Awards on Nov. 29. A full list of upcoming events can be found on the venue’s website.
— With files from The Canadian Press