So Tim Leiweke just can't stop himself from talking, we all know that, though after last week he's probably getting a lot more leeway from the Toronto FC side of things at least, if not the Leafs. We also all know that there's a serious probability that the Argos are going to end up playing at BMO Field, those articles have been written many times, the debate and arguments, some pro, mainly con from TFC fans has been going on for what seems like the club's entire history.
So the fact that another article has come out quoting Leiweke on the subject normally wouldn't stir me to do much beyond some half hearted and tired dismissive tweets and comments, but there's a couple of interesting bits in this one, from serial Rob Ford botherer Daniel Dale at the Star that make it worth it.
The general crux of the article is Leiweke trying to reassure everyone that any money that comes from taxpayers will be paid back and then some. Quite right too, but the devil is in the details on that one, and here's the bit that gives me that sinking feeling:
"I think if there is any contribution, it'll be one where they get paid back over a period of time and get a healthy rate of return. So the significant majority portion of this is going to end up being us, and we get that," he said.
"One of the things the city's asked for is that we backstop a minimum revenue stream annually that would get their money back, plus some, over the period of the lease. So the city wants certainty. We're working through that."
So, MLSE themselves aren't going to pay anything back, the city will make it's money back through revenues generated, their share of the operating profit in accordance with their initial operating agreement. The city wants a minimum revenue stream to get their money back, which presumably means a larger stream than they currently get. Hmmmm, how to do that I wonder? By playing more games there of course, perhaps a CFL season's worth. Add in a Grey Cup every now and then and an outdoor Leafs game (the way the NHL is going with these things, they'd probably agree to that becoming an annual event) and hey, there's the city making it's money back without MLSE having to pay back a penny of whatever money ends up coming from governments. And if the city's revenue stream gets bigger, well that of course means that MLSE's share is also getting bigger as well, and they get to hide behind 'this is what the City wanted us to do' as a reason. How convenient.
But why is there now this talk of government money that would need to be paid back? Well that bring us to the other alarming part of all this. Apparently there's talk of doing some work to have expanded capacity before the Pan Am games in 2015.
Leiweke said the project could be done in phases. The first phase would improve the concourses and increase the permanent seating capacity from about 22,000 to 30,000. The second phase, which could be completed in 2016, would build a roof over the seating area.
The project may be more imminent than previously understood. Government officials, Leiweke said, have asked if the first phase could be completed in time for the Pan Ams. He said that is possible only if construction begins this summer. City council would have to approve the project within months.
"We understand that part of what they're asking out of us is if they can have some upside on seating capacity for the Rugby Sevens competition that will take place during the Pan Am Games, and thus an economic benefit to the Pan Am Games, and a stadium that looks great in the eyes of the world," Leiweke said.
If construction begins this summer.
Now I imagine there's agreements in place with the CSA and more importantly FIFA that would stop this going on during the U20 Women's World Cup, and the last game scheduled for Toronto is August 16th (I reached out to the CSA to check if that is the case or not, I'll update this if and when I hear back). If work does happen this year, that doesn't leave a lot of time really does it? There are 7 TFC home games after that date, what's the plan for those games while this first phase is happening?
Now if they can wait to the off-season to expand the playing surface and it's just the concourses and stands themselves being refurbished and supersized in season, there's a chance the games could still go ahead, as they did in many grounds in England in the early 90's after the post Hillsborough Taylor Report mandated all seater stadia (Arsenal famously putting up a mural of a crowd to hide the construction). But if one or more stands are closed off for construction, where do those fans go? Do they get their tickets refunded? Other seats found somewhere in the stadium?
Maybe everyone just heads over to the Skydome? Well, not so fast. Of the 5 TFC games scheduled between August 16th and the end of the Jays season, 3 of them have a Jays game scheduled for the same day, and a similar issue might happen in October if the Jays somehow get to the playoffs (I know, I know). Then there is of course, irony of ironies, the Argos to be worked around as well. Also, will all construction be done by March or will it impact the 2015 season as well? This has chaos and disgruntlement written all over it.
Before the chronic long term annoyance of sharing with the Argos (for those that stick with it rather than walk away as many have threatened), there was always going to be some sharp short term pain while construction happened. With the U20 World Cup and the Pan Am games coming up, and the Argos Skydome eviction notice set for 2017, I presumed there'd be a couple of years before we had to go through that, 2016 seemed the logical time for all that to happen. Now it seems like we're set for two stages of pain, 2014 and 2016. All to end up with something that very few TFC fans actually want. Lovely.
I guess one benefit is that if construction does start this year, at least the plans will be made public and we'll know our fate. The interminable 'will they or won't they' will be over. That's a small mercy, but it looks like for the foreseeable and suddenly very immediate future we're going to have to hang on to every crumb of comfort we can find.