Apr 3, 2014, 4:56 PM EST
The increased capacity at BMO Field that Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has harped upon since arriving in Ontario will come to pass, if plans approved today by Toronto’s city council come to fruition. With a 39-3 vote, the council approved a plan to expand Toronto FC’s home venue, on that currently seating 21,566. Under plans submitted by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the venue would be expanded to 30,000, with the city of Toronto paying only $10 million of the estimated $120 million cost.
Most of the that bill will be footed MLSE. The group is on the hook for at least $90 million toward the project, a commitment that comes with a 10-year extension on their lease. Currently expiring in 2027, TFC’s tenancy at the city-owned BMO Field would be extended through 2037.
The remaining funding for the project is expected to come from the Canadian and Ontario governments, with MLSE president Tim Leiweke explaining his group will now work to secure those commitments.
“We’re very grateful for the leadership and support of the City,” Leiweke said, via reporting by the Toronto Star. With the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts looking for a new home ,as well as the venue’s potential to host special events, expansion was pitched as part of a larger picture, one that transcends Toronto FC.
“This is an important issue,” Leiweke explained, “not just for Toronto FC, but also the CFL, the Pan Am Games, our ability to host Winter Classics, Grey Cups, and the proposed 2026 World Cup bid for Canada.”
Continuing the obligatory dance that’s always attached to these deals, Leiweke warned money from the provincial and federal governments is still necessary to make this project happen.
“It’s part of our agreement with the city,” he said. “If we don’t get the other sources (of funding), then the deal falls apart.”
So the project isn’t a go, but in MLS terms, this is still a significant step. BMO Field is nice, but also carries all the characteristics of the modest venues that have cropped up over the last period of Major League Soccer’s growth. As the league grows, however, it will need to cycle out smaller facilities in favor of stadia that increase gate receipts. For a team like Toronto, one that theoretically shouldn’t have trouble drawing fans (and didn’t, until the last three years), the extra 8,434 seats could represent a significant revenue boost.
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