Toronto considering soccer field expansion, still mum on funding details

Toronto city councillor (and Exhibition Place chair, because that’s how they roll in Canada) Mark Grimes tells the Toronto Sun that Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns Toronto F.C. in addition the Maple Leafs, is “getting close” to a deal to expand BMO Field for both the soccer team and possibly the CFL Argonauts, who currently play at whatever SkyDome is called these days. As for what the deal would look like, though, it’s about as vague as when MLSE first discussed it last month, with Grimes saying only, “It is going to cost us money to expand, there is a portion that we would pay that we’d be guaranteed back.” (Eeeagh, comma splice!)

The big question remains whether “guaranteed back” means actual revenue to the city to repay the money it would be fronting, or some bogus “repayment” involving taxes the teams would have to be paying anyway. It would be really, really nice if someone with better access to the principals involved — I don’t know, maybe some Toronto newspaper named after Earth’s nearest star? — would ask these kinds of questions at some point, but I guess there’s only so much one can ask, even of Canada.

 


12 comments on “Toronto considering soccer field expansion, still mum on funding details

  1. Seems the principal players in this want the work done in time for the stadium to be used in the 2015 Pan-Am Games. This means right out the gate it is horribly behind schedule and since nothing has been formally proposed yet (as far as we know), nothing has been formally approved.

    The Exhibition Place board of governors is holding a public comment meeting on March 5. Hopefully by then there will be a proposal to comment about.

  2. The Sun is sports crazed, and is probably the biggest booster of the Argos in town, would highly doubt they’d campaign against it.

  3. I think the Toronto papers are applying all their available man hours to Rob Ford and Bieber stories.

    I’m not saying there is anything wrong with shining a light on public figures who are clearly out of their depth (either within their jobs or struggling with “personal problems”), but there is actually something newsworthy going on besides this I’m sure…

  4. It’s hard to believe that a former mayor of Toronto, David Miller, didn’t see the stadium as a public community resource considering the city of Toronto owns the stadium. Imagine if a city owner facility like an arena only allowed hockey to be played and so no to community groups wanting to rent the ice for skating or a library indicating that their public community rooms could only be reserved by book clubs and for no other use. Fortunately there are some level heads in Toronto like Mark Grimes who see that a public resource should be used to it’s maximum potential as best value-for-buck for taxpayers. It still is unfathomable that a former mayor of Toronto didn’t see BMO Field as a resource for the entire community. But nothing surprises me in politics where some use power for their own selfish interests.

  5. Mike, there was a lot of community use provisions written into the National Soccer Stadium agreements. When BMOF had FieldTurf it was getting used 7 days a week by the public except for game days and team practices, so much so that the FT was wrecked after 2 yrs.

    When TFC sold Mo Edu’s contract to Rangers and got money to put in natural grass, MLSE had to provide alternative venues for the community access that would no longer be offered at BMOF.

  6. Mr. Tuk: Absolutely correct.

    Mike: David Miller did insist that, amongst other things, the Argos had the opportunity to be included as a tenant. During the design phase, MLSe (who had put $10m up as I recall) invited them in for a discussion about their interest. The Argos owners of the day, sadly, said “No, we aren’t putting any money in to this stadium, we have a new deal at Skydome and that’s where we are staying”.

    I’m not surprised they didn’t want to invest given the economics of the CFL in Toronto, but the fact is they were offered a chance to be a tenant in the stadium and they declined. Lots of fans talk about how MLSe “kept them out” and it just isn’t true.

    In the design phase, the developers looked at the idea of moving stands on one end that could accommodate both the CFL and MLS length fields… initial estimates for this added about $50m to the cost of the $65m stadium (and that, obviously, doesn’t include conversion costs every time you switch from one sport to another – something the Argos could never pay given their economics). So, MLSe built fixed stands for soccer only. I don’t blame them.

    It may seem counterintuitive, but it would probably be cheaper to build a separate stadium for the Argos than it would to convert BMO for use by both clubs. If MLSe is still contemplating doing that, then I think they are fools. Toronto has a long history of making their average sports venues awful ones by trying to make them multipurpose. If the Argos need a place to play (and they do, I’ll concede), then the ownership and the city (or one of the surrounding cities) need to figure out a way to build one.

  7. “It may seem counterintuitive, but it would probably be cheaper to build a separate stadium for the Argos than it would to convert BMO for use by both clubs.”

    Even counting land costs? I agree that soccer stadiums generally make lousy football stadiums and vice versa, but finding room for both of them, especially in a relatively pricey city like Toronto, can be tough.

  8. It’s a good point to make, Neil.

    However, an Argos stadium need not be downtown… in fact, the CFL fanbase tends to be a more suburban one in any case (at least part of the reason the Argos don’t draw at the Dome is the cost of getting there, the cost of parking and concessions etc, none of which they control as tenants.. though there are many other reasons, of course). BMO sits on just part of the old Exhibition grounds… and the city has other underused/available land as well.

    As was noted above by others, MLSe moved the “community” soccer to Lamport stadium as part of the last BMO renovation – a facility they’ve owned for some time (Lamport isn’t that far from BMO and has been a rec stadium for most of it’s life… seats about 10k in a small park setting, probably about the same overall footprint as BMO has). If finding city owned land failed, there are several bedroom communities that might be better destinations for the Argos than Toronto proper. Land downtown is very valuable… but land up in Downsview or Markham (yes, them) is easier to acquire.

    I suspect MLSe is only keen to include the Argos now because they think it means they can access public funds to do the work they want to do for their soccer team. It’s been suggested they might buy the Argos as part of this effort… nothing is impossible, but I know the company has looked at buying the Argos several times and backed away each time. Maybe it’s different now, but unless they think owning the Argos will be a condition of acquiring an NFL franchise, I can’t see any benefit to them becoming owners.

  9. The stadium needs to be as multi-use as possible to provide the best bang-for-the-buck for taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I would expect nothing less and if there is a business case for the Argonauts or rugby or whatever, then really expanding the stadium for more uses is simply a no-brainer.

  10. Mike: I agree with the “best bang for the buck” argument… but that may not be a multi sport stadium (in Toronto or elsewhere).

    I’m not a fan of stadium subsidies (obviously), but if one makes the decision to go that route, it is utter folly to invest in a single “cost is no object here” project that is meant to suit everyone (like Skydome, Olympic Stadium etc). Even Saskatchewan figured this out… they are spending less than $200m on a new stadium for football (and, possibly, univ soccer/football), not the $600-700m+ it would have cost for a domed facility that, theoretically, could be used year round.

    If I were MLSe, I would simply walk away from BMO and leave it for the city (to house the Argos or lacrosse or whatever they want). If MLSe are really going to spend $100-120m on a revamped stadium, they’d be far better off building a purpose built MLS facility (designed to be expanded to 30,000 seats if they can get their fan support back) than to throw twice what BMO cost into renovations…

  11. With the MLS in a developing stage, who knows what is going to happen with this league long term. Toronto FC is blowing their brains out with the recent signings to make the team relevant. The MLS has as yet to figure out what it will be long term. No one in their right mind, especially government monies using taxpayer money, is going to fund a stadium for soccer only, at least in Canada, along the lines of the multi mlllions some suggest. The MLS is just too new and unproven as to what the model will be long term to consider that amount of taxpayer monies. Nothing to do with franchise values. For all we know with this relatively new league that still is, from what I understand, not even in the top 10 world soccer leagues, the monies justifying a close to NFL type stadium that some Toronto FC fans suggest, simply isn’t warranted. At this point. Give it another 10 years and then we’ll see.

  12. Let the Argonauts go to the suburbs for a new football stadium. Hey Markham instead of trying to get an NHL sized arena for an NHL franchise that will not come to Markham anytime soon why not go for a new stadium for the Argos. Or the Argos can go to other GTA suburban cities like Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan and etc.

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