Now that this is a go we can forego the lame detractor and trolling threads of the past and post actual news
Tks to Steve B at Vs for headsup
Work begins on Toronto soccer stadium, with tight budget and deadline
TORONTO (CP) - The ground has been broken. Excavation machines dot the fenced-off site and hard hats are mandatory.
The national soccer stadium is slowly taking shape at Exhibition Place, separated from Ontario Place and Lake Ontario by the strip of Lakeshore Boulevard that serves as part of the annual Champ Car race course.
Work on the project will ramp up this summer. Come November, the shell of the stadium should be plain to see.
There is not much time. The $62.9-million venue is due to be completed May 1, 2007, with the world under-20 soccer championship kicking off July 1.
"It's a very tight schedule and it's a very tight budget," said Bob Hunter, executive vice-president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and general manager of the Air Canada Centre.
With $18 million sunk in the stadium, MLSE and Hunter are driving the project - although the owners of the NHL Maple Leafs and NBA Raptors hope to get $10 million of that investment back via naming rights.
MLSE also paid the $10-million US expansion fee for the Major League Soccer team that will be the stadium's prime tenant, starting with the 2007 season.
So, soccer is high on the MLSE priority list at present.
Hunter estimates he spends more than half his day on the stadium project. And MLSE will have 15 people running the stadium when it is finished, with another 30 to 35 operating the MLS franchise.
Hunter's staff is already well on the way to the MLS team's name, uniform and marketing campaign.
"We think we're pretty close. And we think people will like it," Hunter said in an interview in his Air Canada Centre office.
Previous stadium plans at the University of Toronto and York University were scrapped as costs grew and the CFL's Argos, once a driving force, opted to stay at the Rogers Centre.
So the fiscally challenged Canadian Soccer Association, which has been shepherding the stadium project like a single-minded but thrifty cowboy corralling his herd, came to MLSE.
The sporting giant, which had been eyeing adding soccer to its sporting empire, took up the challenge. A soccer stadium may not be a cash cow in North America, but it's another ribbon to the MLSE sporting bow.
Hunter says construction costs will not rise on his watch.
"This is going to be a very basic, basic stadium," he explained. "The good thing about it though is it's just for soccer. We're barely building it to do concerts."
With 20,000 seats and stands just one metre from the FieldTurf artificial playing surface, it will be an intimate soccer experience.
Temporary seating will expand the capacity to 25,000 during the FIFA championships, which will be shared with Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa and Montreal.
Of the $62.9 million, the federal government is contributing $27 million and the province $8 million. Ottawa has actually yet to fork over the money, but there is no reason to expect a change of heart. MLSE is plowing ahead in the meantime.
The city, which is kicking in a shade under $10 million and providing the land, may own the new stadium but MLSE will operate it under a 20-year agreement.
Passers-by will soon notice the structure.
"The field will be in by November. . .. all the bleachers will be done this summer, because they just won't have time to get to it in the spring. So you'll see a lot happen very quickly," Hunter said. "You'll be able to tell it's a stadium by November-December."
The lower bowl of the stadium's west grandstand, which will be a two-tier structure, will be concrete. The top tier and the east side of the stadium will be prefabricated steel trucked to the site.
The west side, which will house the press box and suites, will have 10,000 seats with another 6,500 on the east and some 2,500 in the south end.
The north end will not feature much seating. Instead it will be a plaza area that will overlook the bowl.
The MLS expansion team will play 18 to 20 home games a year and have to start on the road in April 2007 because the stadium won't be quite ready yet. The goal is to play two MLS games before the FIFA championships opens.
A bubble will cover the playing surface during the winter, with the field split into three. From roughly Nov. 1 through March 15, the indoor area will available for rentals and community use.
"You are going to be able to phone up and say 'Can I rent that field from 9 to 10 on Thursday night?' And if it's available, yes we'll rent it."
The field will be rented at "market rates," but Hunter acknowledges "this kind of now sets a new market."
They have yet to come up with a price.
"But it's got to be reasonably priced or if not, it's not community used," he added.
Hunter hopes the Toronto Lynx of the United Soccer Leagues will play there but no deal has been struck yet.
The plan for the stadium is to break even or make a bit of money.
"I can tell you this thing is by no means is it going to throw up a lot of cash," Hunter said.
The MLS team will pay the city rent according to MLS-market lease rates.
Seeing the MLS team won't break the bank, he promised.
"Tickets are going to very reasonably priced. This is not hockey and it certainly isn't basketball either. This is a Marlies ticket or a junior hockey ticket. This is a $20-to-$30-max dollar ticket."
"We're going to attract kids and families that participate and people that connect to the national team."
The CSA has committed to six dates a year and will share the practice ground and training facilities.
Location of the MLS team's practice facility is still up in the air. Hunter says league officials and coaches have suggested they need a natural grass training surface. Ideally they want it in walking distance of the stadium.
Hunter and his staff have made the most of MLS resources.
MLSE staff have attended MLS broadcast, marketing and operational meetings.
Hunter has been down to Dallas twice to see Pizza Hut Park, which opened in July and hosted the MLS championship in the fall.
"Very nice," Hunter says of the Dallas venue, "And we stole a lot of good ideas from them."