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MLSE spies big BMO Field expansion
March 18, 2009, 7:28 AM
Filed under: BMO Field, Toronto FC

In news sure to bring smiles to thousands of people on Toronto FC’s season-ticket waiting list, the club’s owner is looking at an expansion of BMO Field.

“Everything you see right now says that there’s a market for more than 20,000 seats,” said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

While noting “we haven’t put a pen to paper,” in terms of designs for expanding the stadium on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, Anselmi said given the runaway box office success of TFC, MLSE officials began looking at the possibility over the past year.

There’s no time frame for an expansion, he said.

City-owned BMO Field, which has a capacity of 20,148 for soccer, could be expanded by about 8,000 seats “without having to tear things apart and start over again,” Anselmi told reporters yesterday as the team finished its final Toronto practice before opening the season in Kansas City on Saturday.

For about $15 million, an upper deck could be built on the east side of the stadium and more rows of seats put at the south end, he said.

BMO Field, which opened in April 2007, cost $63 million to build.

MLSE, which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Air Canada Centre, pays the city to operate BMO Field, billed as Canada’s first soccer-specific stadium.

TFC has 16,000 season-ticket holders and a waiting list of about 14,000. Anselmi said about 700 people were moved off the waiting list this year and given some tickets such as mini-packs of regular-season games, friendlies and the CONCACAF series with Montreal and Vancouver “to add value to the wait list and keep them engaged.”

Asked if a BMO Field expansion would include making room for the Argonauts, Anselmi said he’d prefer it stayed the way it is.

“One of the keys to success here has been having a soccer-specific stadium,” he said. “You’d only want to look at CFL football if you could do it without compromising that.

“But, it’s not our call.”

Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone said the city is “quite proud” of the success of BMO Field. And, while councillors have seen no specific plans for expansion, they’d certainly be willing to listen, he said.

“We would be sympathetic to an expansion if it’s done properly in terms of maintaining the ambience of the place,” Pantalone said in an interview. “But it has to be at the cost of MLSE, not city taxpayers.”

Anselmi and TFC general manager Mo Johnston said MLSE would also like to look at replacing the FieldTurf at BMO Field with grass.

One possibility being looked at, Anselmi said, is building a new TFC practice facility adjacent to the Leafs new four-rink workout complex at Kipling and Lake Shore. “There’s lots of work to do before that can come to fruition but the vision for it really is taking that whole block and turning it into a real high-performance and community sports complex,” Anselmi said.

Once completed, that site would offer some of the public-access uses that now go on at BMO Field and make it easier to replace the FieldTurf with real grass, he said.

Pantalone was less sympathetic to that move, noting that while a new facility would be great, the attraction of BMO Field for public use is its “great location” in relation to downtown Toronto.

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