Toronto Argonauts co-owner Howard Sokolowski insists the notion that BMO Field was intended to be a soccer-specific stadium is incorrect.
And there appears to be evidence to back him up.
Toronto city council minutes from the fall of 2005, at which $9.8-million of city money was committed to the complex, note that the stadium proposed for the exhibition grounds was to be "capable of a conversion to a football format."
However, the 20,000-seat stadium, built initially for the FIFA U-20 World Cup soccer tournament last year, doesn't fit a regulation CFL field, making it unusable for the Argonauts as well as amateur football teams.
Now, as the Argos are in the process of surveying fan support for a potential move from the CFL team's home, the Rogers Centre, to BMO Field, there has been considerable push-back from soccer fans and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the stadium's primary occupant, Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.
"This is not a soccer-specific stadium," Sokolowski said yesterday. "It was built for soccer, but it clearly had an understanding that it was convertible for football and to be expanded to 30,000 seats. That's what city council voted on."
Sokolowski believes Mayor David Miller is doing his best to live up to council's promise of nearly three years ago, even though the stadium would require some reconstruction to accommodate a CFL field.
"The mayor has been very helpful," Sokolowski said. "He wants to please soccer and football fans together. There's no reason they can't coexist. This isn't the Hatfields and the McCoys, but I'm not sure [MLSE president]Richard Peddie feels that way.
"The mayor has told us a number of times that if the Toronto Argonauts want to come to BMO Field, he'll do all he can within the confines of his lease agreement with MLSE."
The lease agreement gives MLSE control of all stadium revenue streams, which are then shared with the city. Though the city might back a potential Argos request to be cut into some of the revenue streams, there's no indication MLSE would accommodate such a request.
It could also be argued that a stadium that requires construction to move stands to accommodate football does not necessarily meet the definition of "capable of conversion to a football format." But a spokesman for the Toronto mayor says it does.
"What we have is a $70-million public asset that is in the shape of a stadium," Stuart Green said. "The primary occupant is the game of soccer, and what council said [in 2005]is there has to be some compatibility option [for football]there.
"It has to be an option because that was built into the approval council gave. How that happens has to be worked out."
Sokolowski said the Argos have been willing to talk about that for some time, but are being put off by Peddie.
Peddie said this week that MLSE hadn't made up its mind whether to pursue stadium expansion to meet the current demand from Toronto FC fans.
"I had a meeting with Richard Peddie three or four months ago, and he informed me that in late August there may be a time to sit down and talk about what they want to see in the stadium expansion," Sokolowski said. "Now, I understand it's not on his radar screen. I spoke to Richard last week by e-mail and it's not a priority for him right now.
"Whether we could write a cheque [for stadium expansion]or help secure funds, I'm not sure. But the Toronto Argonauts could be part of making that happen."
Yesterday, Peddie said he had talked with Sokolowski, but called the topic of discussion "premature."
"It's not cheap to expand that building," Peddie said. "It's millions and millions of dollars. We haven't nailed down cost and determined if there's a return on investment, and won't for months. It's not a matter of accommodation.
"We're just not ready."