WATCH: BMO Field expansion could lead to major events and a new home for the Toronto Argonauts. Rob Leth reports
TORONTO – BMO Field is never going to look the same again. A massive $105 million renovation project to expand the city-owned facility officially got underway Tuesday.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment and Toronto FC representatives gathered at Canada’s modest national soccer stadium to officially put shovels in the ground and show off the latest renderings of what will eventually be a much-improved stadium with a European feel.
The price tag for this two-phase renovation is currently set at $105 million with the city of Toronto contributing $10 million – in the form of a loan to be paid back with interest – and the remainder privately financed by MLSE.
There will be two notable changes to the stadium – each taking approximately one year to complete as part of the phased construction process.
The first order of business will be to add a second level to the east stand which will sadly block many fan’s view of downtown. This addition will raise capacity by 8400 seats or from 22,591 to approximately 30,000 – nearly a 33 per cent increase.
Sell-outs are routinely announced at Toronto FC matches with many more supporters anxious to jump off the season ticket waiting list and into a seat.
In addition, there will be more washrooms and concessions, new executive suites, private clubs, a wrap-around concourse and a new high-definition video board. The cost of this initial phase is estimated to be $65 million and will be complete by May 2015 in time for the Pan-Am Games.
The second phase is worth $40 million. It will see a roof installed above the facility with only the north end – adjacent the food building – exposed. New lights and a better sound system will also be installed. Construction of this phase is expected to be complete by May 2016.
A further third phase to accommodate the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and renovate the north stand, with a price tag of $20 million, is currently in limbo as MLSE grapples with a request for funding from both the provincial and federal governments.
Despite MLSE paying the majority of the bill, public funding to cover the third phase has been difficult to acquire. The Harper government remains consistent in saying it does not pay for sports venues.
“I can tell you that the federal government has no program to fund professional sports facilities,” Michele-Jamali Paquette, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel , said in an email in March.
“In fact, our government has decided against creating such a program. This decision is applied consistently across the country.”
Meanwhile, Toronto’s CFL franchise continues to watch the clock wind down on its time at the Rogers Centre. Those seconds expire after the 2017 season.
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon has repeatedly mentioned BMO Field as an ideal solution for the Argos. But it seems there is a stalemate between the team’s current owner, David Braley, and MLSE who operates the stadium.
“I think what’s most important is we come up with the right lease agreement that works for MLSE as the operator of BMO Field but also works for the future of the Argos and can make them a profitable franchise,” Cohon said.
“The important thing is for our fans and partners to know there’s a solution at hand and we’re trying to work through that. If we can get them in there it makes the team a lot more attractive for a future purchaser. That’s what we’re focused on.”
– With files from the Canadian Press