York site has several advantages

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

It should come as no surprise that York University picked up the stadium project ball after the University of Toronto dropped it.

It has been apparent the Argos and the Canadian Soccer Association would be selecting York as the site for a football/soccer stadium. It's just that they had to follow a strategic course to get there.

HOUSING DEVELOPMENT

Prior to Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon buying the Argos last November, Sokolowski favoured York as a proposed site for a new football stadium because his company, Tribute Communities, had begun a housing development on the perimeter of the university's main campus.

But both owners listened to the fans, who preferred Varsity as a stadium site. The idea ended a couple weeks ago when U of T bailed out of the project, costing the Argos and the CSA valuable time and money. That's when York became the top site again.

While many local sports fans prefer the Ex because of easier transportation, there are a host of issues that make it the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let's say, for example, that both the Argos and the CSA preferred the Ex -- and remember, almost a year and a half ago the CSA unveiled plans to build a football/soccer stadium on that site -- there are some major hurdles to overcome. For any project to be built on the Ex, it has to go through various bureaucratic channels before it is presented to City Council for discussion and approval. This process, according to one source, could take many months, possibly as much as a year and a half, depending on which politicos and/or lobbyists are pushing for the project.

In order to have a stadium ready for the 2007 World youth soccer championship, which has been awarded to Toronto by soccer's world governing body, the project needs to begin groundbreaking some time within the next few months. It normally takes 18-24 months to build a stadium.

Then there is the cost -- and it's an equally important issue, probably even more than the time factor. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, whose ward includes the Exhibition Place land, already indicated the city has no money to invest in the project. If you recall, the city plunked $9 million into the Ricoh Coliseum project and provided loan guarantees for $20 million. Right now, that appears to be a bad expenditure because the primary tenants, the now-defunct Toronto Roadrunners, lasted only one season and left behind a financial mess.

Until the Maple Leafs farm team moves here from Saint John's, Nfld., next September, the city has an idle investment.

There's also the issue of parking. A stadium would cut into parking revenues available to the city for various events that one source speculated could represent about $1 million annually in parking fees. Surely, the city would want some kind of return for lost revenue because the stadium would have limited usage beyond the football/soccer dates.

Now consider York. It is self-enclosed land with plenty of available parking space and not nearly the same municipal issues as the Ex because it is owned by the university.

York is probably eager to enter into this project if only to score a real publicity coup following U of T's handling of the stadium issue. This would be an opportunity for York to bill itself as the premier sports-facility institution in the country, along with the National Tennis Centre. Moreover, the existing football facility that the York Lions use provides a practice site for the Argos without having to build one.

NEW INDOOR MALL

And with the proposed new massive indoor mall slated to be operating less than 10 minutes away in Vaughn and the possibility of an extended subway line or, at the very least, dedicated bus routes, York has several things going in its favour.

Both Varsity and the Ex may have had advantages at one point, but York is the best place at this particular time.


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