Stadium's finances a concern

DEAN McNULTY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

No matter how you do the math, a proposed 20,000-seat soccer stadium to be built on the CNE grounds still is nearly $2 million shy of its estimated $64-million construction cost.

And the starting price of stadiums, no matter how small, rarely bares any resemblance to its final tally.

The City of Toronto and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. -- owners of the Maple Leafs and the Raptors -- have agreed in principal to build the facility that will house an expansion Major League Soccer team owned by MLSEL and be home to the 2007 FIFA under-17 world championship.

City council approved a scheme this week that would see MLSEL ante up $18 million, the city $9.8 million, the province $8 million and the feds $27 million for the project.

According to the deal, the city would be the owner and landlord of the stadium, with MLSEL signing a long-term contract for its proposed soccer squad.

Construction of the stadium on the site of the Canadian Autosports Hall of Fame is scheduled to start in January, just enough time for completion by the 2007 season.

MLSEL has an Oct. 31 deadline to get approval for the stadium in order to get a MLS franchise.

But not everybody is happy that local taxpayers will have to bear the the brunt for almost $10 million of the stadium's building costs, plus a continuing contribution in annual operating costs.

At a meeting yesterday of the Canadian National Exhibition board of governors, concerned citizen Alan Kasperski spoke against the plan.

"This is plain and simple an example of taxpayers subsidizing professional sports," Kasperski said.

Kasperski claims that the city has no business entering into a deal that would benefit commercial operations like MLSEL.

"MLSEL built the Air Canada Centre at a cost of $250 million using all private money," he said. "So why can't those same people pay for their own soccer stadium?"

Kasperski said that there appears to be a rush to okay this deal so that MLSEL can get its MSL franchise in time for the 2007 season.

"Why can't they play in the Rogers Centre?" he said. "There are a number of MLS teams that currently share National Football League stadiums in their cities."

Kasperski's main beef is based on the fact that there are facilities owned by the city that would fit the bill for amateur soccer.

"Lamport Stadium only needs a re-fit that would lift it from an eyesore to a usable multi-sport facility that would seat 10,000 or more at much less cost than building a brand new stadium at CNE," Kasperski said.

Kasperski noted that a similar sized soccer stadium in Chicago started at $75 million US but ballooned to $95 million when completed.

MLSEL president Richard Peddie said the negotiations were difficult and he's not calling it done until it has full council approval, but he's convinced this stadium can make money for both sides.

"We're a business and we look for a rate of return," Peddie said.

Council's finance committee meets today to give its seal of approval to the deal.

-- with files from Rob Granatstein.


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