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The Toronto Argonauts' vision of playing their games in a quaint fan-friendly stadium was officially put to rest yesterday as the Canadian Football League team announced it has signed a long-term deal to remain at the Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome.

The move represents an about-face for co-owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, who had made the construction of a new stadium the centrepiece of their vision since buying the team in November, 2003.

As recently as two weeks ago, the pair had been fully committed partners in a joint venture with the Canadian Soccer Association to build a stadium at York University. Those two parties have now been left to go it alone, minus the $20-million that the Argos were to have contributed to the project, once slated to cost $70-million.

"We feel bad for York," said Cynamon, who, like Sokolowski, is an alumnus of the school. "They are great people. You couldn't ask for better partners if we were going to work further in that situation. But it was the right thing to do for the Toronto Argonauts, for the franchise, economically and also for our fans. It turned out to be a better situation, it was the right thing to do."

Cynamon and Sokolowski struck their deal with York last fall, after earlier plans to build a downtown stadium at the University of Toronto fell apart. Shortly thereafter, however, the SkyDome was purchased by Rogers Media, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. The new owners were apparently much more accommodating to the Argos than the previous landlord had been. And that, according to the owners, was enough to bring about a complete reversal of direction.

"Without getting into specific details, it [the new deal]involves all aspects of revenue streams in a stadium that you would typically see and you would typically need to flourish and do well," Cynamon said. "It's very interesting. It's a real win-win for both sides. It's something we wouldn't have expected and it's an excellent transaction for the Argos. Financially speaking, this was a better alternative we think."

The Argos will also get a much better home schedule at the Rogers Centre than in the past, when the team had to take its share of midweek leftovers and went sometimes more than a month without a home date. The new deal gives them scheduling priority after the Blue Jays.

"Every single game will be a weekend game. There hasn't been an Argo owner in the last 15 years who could have said that."

The Argo owners also cited concerns that a 25,000-seat stadium at York might be too small, given that some Argo crowds at the Rogers Centre were announced in excess of 30,000 last year.

Yesterday's announcement came as no surprise to the Argos' former partners in the York stadium project, both of whom are bitterly disappointed by the turn of events.

When news surfaced two weeks ago that the Argos were having second thoughts about the York project, the university and the CSA were initially stunned. York and the CSA have since begun working on plans for a stadium redesign that does not include the football team.

"We're moving forward with our partners, having detailed meetings every day and we're moving forward with the construction of a new stadium and looking forward to it being open in July of 2007 when we celebrate the under-20 world championship," CSA chief operating officer Kevan Pipe said.

"The stadium is being revamped from 25,000 seats down to 20,000 and we're looking for other ways to make it more efficient and effective that will serve the sport as a legacy facility for 2007 and many years thereafter."

While Pipe and York are fully committed to building a stadium at York, they still face design and funding challenges. Yesterday, York released a statement referring to a "significant funding gap" created by the Argos' decision.

It also said York would not make a final determination on whether to go ahead with the stadium until the available options had been presented and information assessed.

That will have to happen within a matter of weeks.

"I think we have to get going in June or we start missing some key dates to be ready for 2007," Pipe said. "We feel extremely confident the facility will be built. We understand there are some what-ifs in the public but those will be answered when [demolition and construction]begin at York in June."

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