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MLSE boss takes shot at mayor over stadium

MLSE boss takes shot at mayor over stadiumMaple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Tim Leiweke in Toronto, Sept. 20, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

TORONTO - MLSE boss Tim Leiweke says he doesn't mind the fact that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford doesn't support the planned renovations to BMO Field.

"Which probably means we win 42-2 at the council," Leiweke said dismissively, speaking to season-ticket holders before Toronto FC's home opener against D.C. United on Saturday.

"This is the guy that I went in and met with, he was mad at us that we didn't go through him at first. He wanted this to be his plan. We took him through it and he said 'I'm for this, I want this, I'll support you.'

"I'm extremely happy he's not supporting us."

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment wants $10 million from each of the three levels of government and plans to spend $90 million itself to expand the city-owned, MLSE-operated stadium.

The plan is to increase the soccer capacity from 21,500 to 30,000, with the potential to add 10,000 more temporary seats for special occasions. The planned renovations also call for a roof over the stands.

The city's $10 million would be repaid over 20 years with interest, said Leiweke.

"They actually do better with this investment than they do their pension fund. They get a pretty good healthy return on the $10 million."

The mayor has said he supports TFC but doesn't believe taxpayers should have to pay for stadium improvements.

"The thing that riles me the most is when someone accuses us of a gravy train. It's exactly the opposite," said Leiweke, MLSE's president and CEO. "We're taking a public facility that the city currently has a 50 per cent responsibility to pay for and we're looking at bills over the next 10 to 15 years that will be $30 to $40 million out of the city's pocket and we're proposing a solution that has them put in $10 million and we repay them over 20 years.

"This is not a gravy train. This is simple smart math and great leadership on behalf of the city manager to find a solution where the private sector steps up and takes all the risk. I am not embarrassed by this deal. I will not let it get in the middle of a political race. And at the end of the day, this stadium, this city, this team and you fans deserve a facility that's the best in Major League Soccer and that's what we're going to try to do."

The City's executive committee has approved the proposed stadium plan with Ford casting the lone No vote. It now goes to the full council in April.

Under the current deal, the City of Toronto and MLSE share the cost of capital improvements. This winter, that means they will share $30 million "to put a Band-Aid" on the stadium, Leiweke said.

"No major improvements, whatsoever ... And without a roof, five years from now, we'll be putting another $30 million into the stadium," he added.

Leiweke said MLSE is offering to take care of any cost overruns in the stadium renovation and will "take full responsibility" in operating the venue as well as taking care of all capital improvements.

"So we completely privatized the risk but at the same time we protect the stadium so it still remains an asset to the city and it's at their beck and call as to how we use it."

Leiweke said MLSE has agreed to the city's demands in terms of finding a home for the Toronto Argonauts at the stadium as well timing of construction around the 2015 Pan Am Games.

The MLSE boss made a point of praising the provincial and federal governments, saying they understood the economics of the deal and the benefits of an improved stadium.

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