A new kick at soccer venue

ROB GRANATSTEIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Time's running out in the last ditch for a pitch.

Toronto is back in the game to bring a 20,000- seat soccer stadium to Exhibition Place, rather than letting it go to Vaughan or Oakville, but it will have to work quickly.

"Exhibition Place is the perfect location," Mayor David Miller said. "Whether it's possible to do that depends on the federal government because they're the major funder."

The city would offer the site and may have to fill the gap between the $35 million the province, Ottawa and private investors have already committed to and the total cost, expected to be at least $45 million.

"I'm not sure the city can be relied on to do that," Miller said yesterday about filling the potential $10-million gap.

Miller said the deadline has already passed, but without a final location, there's still hope. The stadium has to be ready for the FIFA soccer world youth championship starting July 1, 2007.

Kevan Pipe, the Canadian Soccer Association's chief operating officer, said construction would have to start by year's end.

Councillor Mark Grimes, who has been working feverishly behind the scenes to try and co-ordinate a deal between the city, the federal government and international sports management firm IMG, agrees the Ex is perfect, and the stadium could be used for concerts and even seating for future Molson Indys.

"I said to the mayor there's no way you can let this go to Vaughan," Grimes said, adding that the business case for the stadium works.

Grimes has met with IMG Canada's executive director, Kevin Albrecht, and with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in a bid to get a deal done. Bob Hunter, MLSE's senior v-p, said the Leafs want to bring a professional Major League Soccer franchise to the city, and a downtown stadium would be a great fit.


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