Toronto council’s executive committee has endorsed putting in $10 million towards expansion of BMO Field for pro soccer’s Toronto Football Club and possibly a new home for football’s Toronto Argonauts.
Mayor Rob Ford, embroiled in new revelations surrounding his admitted drug use, was the only executive committee member to vote Wednesday against the deal with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. He didn’t say why.
The expansion would see the stadium seating go to 30,000 from 21,566. But it is not a done deal because MLSE is also seeking $10 million each from provincial and federal governments.
MLSE is putting up $90 million towards the $120 million project and receipt of $30 million from government “is contingent on the project going ahead,” said Robert Hunter, the company’s chief project development officer.
“If we were to put in $120 million as an example, it would not make it viable for us and therefore we wouldn’t do it,” Hunter told reporters at city hall after the vote.
“For us to foot the whole bill wouldn’t make it financially responsible for our shareholders.”
The city, which owns the stadium, is in talks with the other levels of government, who are reviewing the proposal, said City Manager Joe Pennachetti.
Toronto would borrow its $10 million share and pay it off through increased parking revenues from the expansion, Pennachetti said, calling it a “virtually the definition of ‘win-win.’”
Added chief financial officer Rob Rossini: “We will continue to own this facility so I look at it this way: A private corporation is willing to put in $90 million of their own money to enhance our facility and maintain it. That’s a very good deal.”
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, chair of the executive committee, said the chance to give the Argos a new home was an attractive element of the deal.
“Soccer is obviously a growing sport in this city; at the same time, this affords the protection of a central part of our Canadian heritage, Canadian football,” Kelly said.
MLSE, owner of Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors as well as the soccer team, TFC, has committed to negotiate a long term deal with the Argos, who now play at Rogers Centre.
The sports company must help fund transportation studies aimed at improving access to city-owned Exhibition Place where the stadium is located.
City officials and the TTC, meanwhile, will look at options to improve and encourage use of public transit to the facility and report to city council’s April 1 meeting.
Hunter said he was “a little surprised” by Ford’s opposition but said he hopes to bring the mayor on side by the time the proposal reaches council.
MLSE needs an answer on funding from provincial and federal governments with a few months and hopes to begin construction after Labour Day to expand seating by May 1 to be ready for the Pan Am Games.
A second phase to add a partial roof covering a majority of the seats would begin by fall of 2015 and be ready by the start of the 2016 soccer season.
To accommodate football, MLSE would extend the end zones but install retractable seats so soccer fans could remain close to the action, Hunter said.
Fixing damage to the grass surface from football games is challenging but can be done, Hunter said.
“If we can get TFC to play the night before an Argos game, we’ve got six to seven days to ensure that field is back in great shape for soccer,” he said. “We’ve done it with rugby a number of times and rugby can be as damaging to the surface as 300 pound linemen can be.”
- Paul Moloney is a Toronto Star urban affairs reporter.