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 Thursday.
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.