So, despite the barriers going up a while back and work actually starting already, today marked the grand press conference for the official groundbreaking for the new and improved BMO Field, with a ceremony for the press and then a presentation for season ticket holders later on (if you went to that bit and have any other details of stories to share, please do in the comments section).
It all started fairly innocently. Of course you'd seen most of the pictures, Kurt Larson rewarded for his stellar work pumping up the new regime recently with exclusive photos for an article that came out yesterday. Full details were released by the club and can be accessed here, with a few photos (oddly, all the seats appear to be full, that can't be right) and details of what happens in which phases of the building, as well as showing off all the fancy new hospitality options. It's well worth taking a look at, if only to see how the other half are going to be living.
There were speeches, the MLSE guys and deputy Mayor Norm Kelly all managed to be dull and say the right things and then upstepped Mark Grimes, city councillor and Chair of Exhibition Place's board of governors, who's been involved with this project all along. If the Argos were supposed to be left in the corner and not really talked about until, surprise! they're back in, well Grimey was having none of that. He started off by saying that you could almost smell the football, then mentioned how he had two sets of notes for his speech, but he had to put away the one that was about the argos, giving a shit eating grin and a 'right Tim?' to the back of the press pack where Tim Leiweke was presumably watching with a grimace. For unrelated Leiweke/Grimes related fun, watch this somewhat drunken endorsement of him, from Grimes' election page. He later made reference to this being the rightful home of the Argos. For more of that, watch him talk about his hopes of giving the Argos a permanent home, with TFC, 'where they should be'. He seemed to be having a whale of a time up there, as TFC fans got all indignant on twitter.
Then there was a brief video and then a special guest in a big digger. There was a suggestion that Michael Bradley should have taken his helmet off so people recognise him, then the traditional shovel in the ground photo op and it was done.
Some random thoughts on all this.
First up, that 'roof' (they're not actually calling it a roof, it's apparently a canopy.) looks ok over the East and West despite a bit of a gap at the back, but the one over the South End looks thoroughly useless, with a huge gap between the stand and the roof (presumably so they can put a bunch of temporary seats behind the south stand for a winter classic and still have everyone see). that's not new, but a bit disappointing to have it confirmed.
Secondly, currently the Argos being out is due to the shortfall in funding, the federal government refusing to pay the chunk that MLSE wanted them to (the province did get thanked in the speeches, though they didn't have a representative on hand, the Feds were very much ignored). Where that money will come from (and it will come, this is happening) is part of what seems to be a big game of chicken going on right now, and as a citizen of Toronto who pays taxes, I really don't like Mark Grimes' speech. Just once again showing how much more enthusiastic about this and ready to bask in it's glow council is compared to all other parties. I can totally see Leiweke thinking to himself 'yeah, go ahead and laugh at me Grimes, you're just showing your hand and backing yourself into a corner where you and council are going to have to blink first when the time comes to avoid looking stupid'. I'd be stunned if council doesn't end up putting in that extra cash when all is said and done, hope their photo ops with Pinball will be worth it.
Next up, what's going to happen. From the website, here's what's happening in each phase.
Additional 8,400 seats with additional washrooms and concession stands
12 new executive suites, 2 party suites and a loge box
New full service kitchen for restaurants, suites and clubs
Two new private clubs:
West Grandstand, Event Level - 230 patrons
East Grandstand, Event Level - 420 patrons
Expansion of Rogers Club - current capacity of 500 is increased to 750 with upgraded look and feel, improved food and beverage and washroom facilities
New larger full HD videoboard replacing existing north videoboard
New concourse (2nd level) around south end of stadium allowing for one continuous concourse (at the upper concourse level)
Budget of $65M
Completion May 1, 2015
Just look at all that work for hospitality. Also, more washrooms will be nice for sure, but it's pretty obvious that they equate 'better' with 'more ways for you to spend money'.
Addition of full size canopy covering all seats with exception of North Grandstand
New sound and lighting system
Budget of $40M
Completion May 1, 2016
I wonder if there's some kind of legal or architectural reason they're not using the word roof, as if it's not actually good enough to technically qualify as one. Who knows?
You won't see it now as for some reason it's no longer on the site, but earlier there was also a phase III, to be finished in 2017, which included CFL home and away dressing rooms, and also the following items:
Demolish North End, and partially South End
Create new patio/portable suite area in north end for TFC games
There had previously been talk of having portable stands for the South End that would be there for TFC games and be rolled away for Argo games, presumably part of the plans still (they wouldn't dare get rid of the supporters sections, think of the pr), but there's no mention of anything like that for the North End, instead specifying a patio and portable suites. Sounds like going back in time to 2008, with no stand there at all, hopefully anyone that attended the fan portion of the night might be able to clarify if that is the case or there'll also be a portable stand there as well for TFC games.
All in all there's no new information, just some updates and more details on what we basically already knew. For a view of how the other half live, click here for the 'executive suites and premium seating' section, There's a lot of new stuff going to be there. Really, though I roll my eyes at it, it won't really affect me in any way, so whatever. Except for this bit that really bothers me, one of the new areas.
The Tunnel Club
Located at field level, just steps away from Toronto FC's locker room and an arm's length distance from both teams, the Tunnel Club provides a unique experience to watch the players take the pitch that's unmatched across MLS.
OK then, they're going to make the players walk past a restaurant to be gawked at by the suits as they go to and from the dressing room? Sure, let's mess with their pre game routine and concentration, why not? Imagine you've been sent off and are stalking angrily back to the dressing room, make sure not to be too pissed off as you're passing the important people. Injured and been taken back to the dressing room? Wave to the suits as you go, they've paid a lot of money to be here don't you know.
They're clearly chasing the Corporate money, giving businesses plenty of options for them to entertain clients (mmm, tax deductible business expense) so if all the extra seats wasn't going to lead to an empty looking stadium, all the premium seats being empty as they hang out in their suites and lounges (if they won't make it out on time to watch the Leafs on time, will they even bother at all with TFC?) certainly will.
Old BMO was a shitbox, barely better than Stade Saputo, there's no denying that, but at least it seemed to be somewhat about the soccer, the extra stuff was a lot more organic and supporter created than I expected. That feeling's long gone of course, this new BMO is just the capper on that, it's now a straight up regular North American sports experience, that just happens to be taking place around a soccer game, and of course plenty of football games as well. Hopefully the extra seats will at least serve to keep ticket prices low, as Tom Anselmi said, it's all about supply and demand and supply's going up much more than demand is.