Toronto FC proposes $120m expansion, “majority” to be funded by team

Toronto F.C., the MLS team owned by the Maple Leafs, is planning a major expansion of the city-owned BMO Field in time for next year’s Pan Am Games, with “the majority of the burden” promised to fall on the private sector, according to team CEO TIm Leiweke — hey, that’s where Tim Leiweke ended up!

As for specifics on who would pay for what how, Leiweke couldn’t have been more hand-wavy:

The total, he said, could amount to “twice” the price tag for the original [$63 million] project. He said Toronto taxpayers would probably make some initial payment. But he said MLSE would later return money to the public purse.

“I think if there is any contribution, it’ll be one where they get paid back over a period of time and get a healthy rate of return. So the significant majority portion of this is going to end up being us, and we get that,” he said.

“One of the things the city’s asked for is that we backstop a minimum revenue stream annually that would get their money back, plus some, over the period of the lease. So the city wants certainty. We’re working through that.”

The city fronting the money and getting paid with interest over time is certainly a legitimate investment model, though you really have to wonder why Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which also owns the Raptors) couldn’t just borrow from a bank, given that they’re a $2 billion company. The trick here is assuring that the money being repaid is real revenue from the team, and not, say, increased tax revenue that would be going to the city regardless of how the expansion was financed.

This is Canada, not the U.S., so those kinds of shenanigans are trickier to get away with, though as we’ve seen elsewhere, not impossible. Hopefully Toronto’s elected leaders will be on the ball enough to keep on top of the situation and assess the costs with a calm, clear — oh, right.


11 comments on “Toronto FC proposes $120m expansion, “majority” to be funded by team

  1. BMO Field needs upgraded even though it is only 7 years old. It was a bare bones design due to funding concerns at the time and a vast amount of uncertainty about the viability of the team’s long term prospects.

    The team has been awful but the attendance has been far higher than the original business model anticipated.

    And now the catch – the CFL Toronto Argos are getting the boot from the Rogers Centre due to the RC permanently opening the roof and putting in sod for natural grass. Some see city-owned and MLSE operated BMOF as the next best landing spot for the team. However, CFL playing dimensions won’t fit the playing surface so major reconstruction is required. Why would MLSE do a solid for the Argos? Maybe if they are planning on buying them.

    TFC fans are not liking this one bit. CFL and MLS seasons overlap between August and November. The prospect of gridiron lines and plowed up pitch has blood pressures spiking already.

  2. The team has been awful, and while attendance has been good, it’s starting to dive. For the first time since opening they’re offering season tickets without a wait list.

    MLSE is probably buying the Argos and moving them in. David Braley has the PM’s ear enough to be appointed to the Senate, so he can probably lobby for some Federal funds for the expansion to help sell the team.

  3. @MrTuktoyaktuk – The Seahawks and Sounders share a field and seem to have the lines on the field thing worked out. If the MLS knows they’re sharing they can usually schedule enough space between the NFL games so the lines on the field doesn’t happen.

    Both sides need to commit to it though.

  4. @jmauro:

    It’s important to note that Seattle has artificial turf and Toronto has natural grass .

  5. “So the city wants certainty. We’re working through that.”

    That sounds ominous to me.

  6. The Sounders/Seahawks organization is mindful of the game aesthetics and has worked hard to schedule games in time for the gridiron lines to be scrubbed off the FieldTurf. The Revolution/Patriots organization, not quite as mindful. There are some other stadiums where there are gridiron games, but in those cases the fb teams are secondary tenants (Portland, Houston). Unclear what the pecking order will be at BMO Field. The two teams have different colors – somebody’s fans are going to be unhappy. At the New Meadowlands/MetLife there is enough $$ and technology that they can change the stadium detailing for either the Jets or Giants and will swap out the end zone FT so the “home” team is correct. Is MLSE going to go to similar lengths?

    To the point – if the timetable they are proposing is accurate, the plans need to be set now. Let see it, MLSE!

  7. MLSe has looked at buying the Argos several times and backed away. I see no reason this time will be any different.

    Rogers owns the Jays and are planning on the installation of a natural surface at their stadium, but are not considering “making the roof open permanently”. The former skydome was and will remain a retractable roof facility, and baseball fans can count on the roof being closed at least as often as it’s open (as the Jays GM likes to say, some stadia have roofs you can close when the weather is bad. Ours can be opened when the weather is really nice. Big difference)

    When BMO was built, the Argos were offered an opportunity to be part of the facility but declined. An estimate was done at the time on what it would cost to add moveable seating to accommodate them, and the number came back at around $50m as I recall – about 80% of the facility’s total cost.

    As we saw with renovations at Exhibition stadium in the 1970s to accommodate the Jays, money spent modifying a stadium to suit a second tenant is seldom a wise investment. The facility always works better for one than the other (also true in Seattle, though that facility was designed and built for both).

    Frankly, the best solution to TFC needing a better stadium is probably them abandoning BMO (which can’t economically be improved to a Red Bull Arena level IMO) and purpose building their own facility. Adding another 2,000 seats to the existing building will be very difficult. Adding another 10,000 is likely to be nigh on impossible at anything like a rational cost. Adding in bigger concourses and other modern amenities will be similarly difficult/expensive. The infrastructure supporting the stadium likely wasn’t 50% oversized either… meaning that has to be replaced if the target is 30,000 paying fans.

    If you are spending $100m, why not do it on a building of your own you can make your own? Why spend it putting lipstick on the proverbial pig?

    The Argos could then more or less inherit the role of primary tenant at BMO, assuming money can be found to knock down one endzone stand and stretch the field.

  8. @ John
    To answer your question: Location, location, location. No other site with any sort allows the transit access and parking of Exhibition. That and the TFC fanbase is far more downtown oriented than any other reasonable location for a megastadium would likely to be.

    Adding 10k seats will be fairly easy: Knock down the east stand and rebuild. 30k is perfect for the Argos, and the TFC fans will complain about the line shadows, but it’s not a make or break.

    MLSE doesn’t even have to buy the Argos for the plan to work, they just have to get the city to be paid $$$ for their dates to justify renovations and more cash flow.

  9. FYI, the Seattle stadium is able to get the lines pretty well taken care of on the Turf surface (you can still see them on TV). But the stadium was supposed to be a grass field (during planning) and then they changed that plan to turf prior to construction. If Paul Allen (who owns the Seahawks) didn’t own a good fraction of the Sounders, they might complain a bit more. Even now, they sometimes put sod out for the Sounders.

  10. If the Jays install natural grass that means non-sports can’t be held at the dome. Are the Blue Jays willing to lose revenue money from non-sporting events at the dome? Like concerts and family shows?