Soccer

Argonauts dropped from plans to renovate BMO Field

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Dave Naylor
5/27/2014 11:21:34 AM
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The notion of BMO Field as the future home of the Toronto Argonauts has been shelved as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment prepares to invest in refurbishing the facility in time for next summer's Pan-Am Games without a retrofit for Canadian football.

In April, Toronto city council approved a plan to invest $10 million in a $120 million expansion, contingent on the provincial and federal governments kicking in $10 million each as well. That plan included expanding the stadium to accommodate CFL football, with the Argos hoping to move in as soon as next season.

That stadium deal was put together at the same time that Argo owner David Braley was negotiating to sell the Argos to either MLSE or its largest individual shareholder, Larry Tanenbaum.

However, with the provincial and federal governments yet to sign onto the deal, and time running out, MLSE is now focused on upgrading and repairing the facility under its current configurations, with an emphasis on getting it ready for next summer's Pan-Am Games when it will host the Rugby Sevens competition.

The state of eight-year-old BMO Field is apparently such that it is in need of significant upgrades to such things as the field, locker rooms, concourse areas and suites as well, all in time for the Pan-Am Games.

Tuesday's news comes as a blow to the Argonauts, who appeared destined to move into BMO either under new ownership or with Braley negotiating a lease with MLSE. However, just where the Argos fit into the BMO picture now is unclear.

"If in fact there are continued modifications to BMO and if in fact the Argos do not ever find a home there, it would be very disappointing," said Argo president Chris Rudge, "given that when the field was originally built there were discussions of the Argos playing there."

While the possibility of an Argo sale to Tanenbaum or MLSE is not dead, according to a source, it has gone from being a priority to something that would depend on another phase of stadium expansion being approved.

The Argos have been asked to vacate the Rogers Centre - their home since 1989 - after the 2017 season so that the Toronto Blue Jays may consider installing natural grass into the facility.

MLSE will take a plan to city council next month to spend $80 million upgrading amenities in the stadium, asking for permission to spend the $10 million of city dollars on that project that was granted for the larger vision in April.

MLSE's plan had been to expand BMO Field to accommodate CFL football as well as such things as larger soccer events and an NHL outdoor hockey game. However, all of those things are now dependent on another phase of stadium reconstruction, beyond the one expected to take place over the next year.

Braley, who bought the BC Lions back in 1997, became sole owner of the Argonuats before the 2010 season. There has been speculation that part of Tanenbaum's desire to see the Argos move into BMO is fueled by a desire to ease the NFL's concerns in advance of a possible relocation of the Buffalo Bills to Toronto.

However, with it being highly unlikely the Bills can move anywhere before 2020, there may be less desire, from Tanenbaum's perspective, to buy or acccomodate the Argos.

BMO Field (Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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