Toronto Soccer Stadium can't ever house canadian football

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For those who thought the $45 million in public dough that was forked over to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to help pay for BMO Stadium was going to result in a multi-use facility, think again.

After a report yesterday that the 20,000-seat stadium at Exhibition Place -- in its final stages of construction -- was configured in such a way that would make it impossible to use for anything but soccer, as in MLSE's new Major League Soccer team Toronto FC, there were concerns that Toronto politicians may have been duped.

The problem is the grandstands at the south end of the pitch are anchored in cement, making moving them to extend the field impossible.

That means the field, as it is right now, is too short for the 110-yards, plus 20-yard end zones needed for football -- be it the Argonauts, University of Toronto Blues or any local high school squad.

Toronto Councilor and former Etobicoke Mayor Doug Holyday said yesterday he was outraged all of the facts about BMO Stadium were not made public during the approval process at City Hall.

"We were told that down the road there was a possibility of even the Argonauts playing there," Holyday said. "I had asked that question as a matter of fact (when the issue was before council) because I knew the Argonauts were somewhat interested in an outdoor facility.

"We were assured the stadium was to be built in such a way that in the future it could be altered (for football). I am disappointed to hear that this is not the case."

MLSE vice-president of operations Bob Hunter said yesterday that Holyday's recollection of the deal doesn't jive with what actually happened.


"When this deal was before council this building wasn't even designed yet," Hunter said.

"There was no one working on the design at that stage. We held a competition later and that was what came back."

Hunter said MLSE was, and still is, open to have the Argonauts as part of BMO but that the cost of moving the grandstands --which he said would be about $15 million --would have to be borne by the football team.

Holyday, who was a supporter of the proposed deal when it came before council, said he had good reason at that time to give it a thumbs up.

Before deciding to build the stadium on the Exhibition Place site, there was plenty of lobbying to have it moved away from downtown Toronto.

"My thoughts were that why send (the Argos) up to York University or somewhere else to build a stadium when we already had one that could be built (at EP)," he said. "Another factor was that (the city) was going to get federal and provincial money to go with its own to help pay for it.

"With that money, somebody was going to build a stadium. If it wasn't with us it was going to up in Vaughan so we gave the go-ahead on the premise that (the stadium) could be altered for other uses."

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Rising now on the grounds of Exhibition Place on the Toronto waterfront is BMO Field, a sight that inspires different feelings in different people.

For the soccer crowd, it's the long-awaited home for their favourite sport, for the men's and women's national sides, for a new professional team, Toronto FC, and for next summer's FIFA under-20 World Cup.

For the skeptics, it's a boondoggle, yet another instance of public money being squandered in the interests of a wealthy private concern, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Major Soccer League franchise, and which will operate the stadium.

Whatever the viewpoint, whatever the math, that last concern diminishes the more the venue can be used for purposes other than those that directly benefit the folks who have already made their $18-million investment back (and then some) by peddling naming rights for $27-million over 10 years.

To that end, here's a fact that some might find surprising. They won't be able to play Canadian football in the new park.

The stands at the south end, built on permanent foundations, sit right in the middle of where the end zone would be. Length-wise, the field simply won't fit.

So knock off a few of those possible alternate uses for the place -- Vanier Cups and high-school football championships, for example, which certainly cuts into the public-good argument. And of course, BMO Field cannot now serve as the home of the Toronto Argonauts.

That last option isn't one that the current owners of the Canadian Football League team are willing to acknowledge. They have a lease at the Rogers Centre and will tell anyone willing to listen that they're more than happy in the cavernous dome.

Privately, though, it wouldn't be shocking if their noses were a bit out of joint at what's happened here, considering the tortured history of the Argos' own doomed stadium projects at the Varsity and York University sites, considering that they feel as though they didn't receive nearly the same political support when they were trying to go it alone, and considering that some day, moving into more intimate quarters might make enormous sense for the franchise.

A complicating factor is that one of the principals in MLSE, Larry Tanenbaum, is also one of the prime movers behind bringing a National Football League franchise to Toronto. He and Argos' co-owner Howard Sokolowski may have a long-standing, mostly friendly relationship, but the optics certainly aren't good.

Perhaps the existence of the Argos, and by extension, of the CFL, isn't as much of an impediment to Tanenbaum's NFL dreams as some believe. Still, for the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, a significant booster of BMO Field, the fate of the Argos has been a bit of a motherhood issue. In that context, it is a bit unseemly for a project that has benefited from approximately $45-million in public funds to be designed so as to cut off one of the Argos' possible escape routes in the case of an NFL invasion.

According to MLSE executive vice-president Bob Hunter, no malice was intended. The decision to build as they did was a purely practical, financial one. "We knew that we couldn't build a CFL stadium at that price," he said, pointing out that the budgets for both the Varsity and York projects were in excess of $100-million, versus $62.9-million for BMO Field.

It was always going to be a soccer-first stadium. They had to get it built fast, in time for the MLS season opener next spring. They were limited in the design by its footprint (there is a new road close behind the south stand and no space to grow beyond the open north end).

They weren't inclined to take on the extra cost of making the bleachers movable (as they would have been at Varsity), allowing for a Canadian football field's 110-yard playing surface and 20-yard end zones.

Certainly it would have been preferable to max out the possible uses for the park. "But you can only max out if you can do it under your existing budget," deputy mayor Joe Pantalone said yesterday.

And if some day, the Argos would like to move to BMO Field? They'd be more than welcome, Hunter and Pantalone agree. Just come up with the money to knock down and rebuild the end stands and expand the seating capacity by five or 10 thousand. The seating alone would cost, in today's dollars, approximately $15-million. Then there would be the expense of demolishing and redesigning/rebuilding the south stand, which Pantalone estimates at "a few handfuls of millions of dollars."

Of course, the Argo owners would undoubtedly be asked to pay for that themselves, without the benefit of a sweetheart deal for the naming rights.

They could be forgiven for feeling that they've been outflanked, as so many have over the years, by those clever hockey/basketball/soccer guys down the street.

Goes to show you yet again how MLSE is corrupt and the City of Toronto is not much better. Even though pro CFL Mayor David Miller said he knew nothing about this?

the city should FORCE MLSE to pay to move the grandstand or PAYBACK the city the $45 million they funded, as its not what they agreed to fund!

Don't hold your breath on that one, both are in the same bed together.

i know.

The stadium deal was shady to begin with, with taxpayers $ being stolen by the two.

Well that sucks ....

Another example of how the CFL gets screwed over ... for no apparent reason other than the fact that it's the CFL.

What gives?

Am I missing something here? As far as I know the Agros backed out of the deal to make them partners and play in the stadium. The signed a long term lease to stay in Rogers centre. Now you are complaining that the stadiums cant hold a football field? Why should MLSE accommodate the argos after they backed out?

RO no one is saying that at least not me, the deal involved taxpayers money and it has now been discovered to the surprise of many how this multi purpose stadium, although for primary soccer use, cannot be used for anything but soccer.
This is contrary to the taxpayers who were lied to by MLSE and the City of Toronto.

the argos were never said to be partners in this deal..they were signed with rogers centre b4 MLSE even presented the city with this.

your confusing yourself with the argos attempt to built thier own stadium b4 the '05 season, which never happened cuz the cost of building the stadium kept going up and up, so they signed with rogers centre....

then a year later, MLSE decides to build one with alot more government funding then the argos coulda gotten.

True, this new stadium should have been made for football as well. If not for the Argos, then for minor football and yes, the Vanier Cup as well.
Bottom line is the deal was for a multi use sports stadium funded with tax payers dollars.

Dont worry though, when the MLS leaves Toronto in a couple years, the stadium will be ours for the taking,lol

It looks like a real nice stadium, I was looking forward to going to Toronto to see some Argos/Cats games that I thought would be played there in a fully outdoor environment. Will have to take in a soccer game or two there.

Everybody knew this already. The Argos are fine where they are.

This was the York U proposal, which would've been far from downtown:

I can think of a french based word for this "sabotage." I wonder if this was done on purpose of course. City of Toeonto should launch an investigation immediatly.

You would have to think that Rogers would want the Argos to stay at their building and not lose their dates booked there. And Rogers must have a fair bit of clout with the city and with MLSE. I'm sure what has happened with this soccer stadium is exactly what the big players, Rogers and MLSE, want or have worked out between themselves, and the city knows it I'm sure. A lot of politics here like usual.

Everybody knew that the Argos weren't going to play there (at least, not within the next 5 or so years), BUT everyone was told that the stadium would be adaptable to football (they were told there would be the possibility of the Argos playing there in the future).

I doubt it's even adaptable to rugby, which requires a 120m-long field.

Even from a non-CFL fan point of view, this is BS. From a CFL fan point of view, it's BS, and why can an MLS team get the public funding for a new stadium, but a CFL team in the same city can't?!?? That REALLY pi$$es me off.

Why did they have to build a stadium for soccer anyway?
I thought Rogers Centre was build for a reason.

Just an MLS Rule I guess, BTW, the last thing we need is another SkyDome tenant.