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Toronto’s BMO Field is seen on April 15, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Toronto’s BMO Field is seen on April 15, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Time is short for BMO Field funds, MLSE’s Leiweke warns Add to ...

Tim Leiweke is pleased Toronto city council voted 39-3 to approve a $10-million investment in the renovations for BMO Field, but the chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment warned the Ontario and federal governments have to come through with an additional $20-million in funding quickly or the project will die.

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Shortly after the council vote on Thursday, Leiweke said construction has to start by September or the first phase of renovations will not be ready by June 1, 2015 for the Pan American Games. This means MLSE, with the help of city officials, “has about a month to finish this all off,” including the injection of the $20-million from the province and the feds.

“If we don’t get the other funding this deal falls apart,” Leiweke said.

Under the agreement with the city, MLSE will provide $90-million of the $120-million in renovations with the other $30-million coming from the three levels of government. MLSE promised to pay the city its $10-million back over 20 years while the company cites an economic study that says the stadium will generate $8-million per year in taxes and economic benefits, most of which will go to the province.

The first phase of the construction will expand BMO Field’s seating capacity from 21,566 to 30,000, add a hybrid turf system to the field and upgrade the concourses, concession stands and washrooms.

The second phase, which is expected to be ready for the start of the Major League Soccer season in the spring of 2016, will lengthen the field to allow the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL to become a co-tenant with Toronto FC of MLS.

A roof will also be built over the stands, which will have the capacity to be expanded to 40,000 seats for big events such as soccer’s World Cup.

The city owns the stadium and it is managed by MLSE. Another part of the deal extends MLSE’s lease by 10 years to Dec. 31, 2037.

Leiweke said MLSE executives are “well aware” the federal government shies away from contributing money to the construction of stadiums and arenas for professional sports teams. However, in this case the money from the feds and the province will technically be funnelled through the city and can be earmarked for the infrastructure around BMO Field, such as the capacity to expand to 40,000 seats.

Since MLSE plans to join forces with the city and other groups like the Canadian Soccer Association to bid for a series of big events for BMO Field, from Grey Cups to NHL outdoor games to the 2026 World Cup, Leiweke argues the federal government’s contribution will be good for the country as a whole.

While Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, his councillor brother Doug and former Toronto budget chief Michael Del Grande were the three no votes at council, deputy mayor Norm Kelly, several councillors and city manager Joe Pennachetti told council the public-private partnership with MLSE is “a very good deal.”

Leiweke said discussions with the federal Conservative government have not begun in earnest but talks so far with the Ontario Liberal government are promising.

“This is a very good deal for all involved,” Leiweke said. “I think the province knows they are big winners here because they get about eight million dollars [annually].

“A lot of the economic benefits of the big events and the [seating] expansion go to the province and the feds. The city doesn’t get taxes from that but the feds and the province do.”

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

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