Grass at BMO remains a contentious issue

STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

If a game between Toronto FC and Real Madrid -- on natural turf at BMO Field -- is to happen, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. would be responsible for putting down a temporary grass field and tearing it up when the match is over.

"If MLSEL wishes to convert the field to grass it needs to get the permission of the owner ... the City of Toronto and the board of Exhibition Place," Joe Pantalone, the deputy mayor and chairman of the Exhibition Place board, said.

"We are not averse to grass. We actually think there is a lot of merit to it. But for that to happen, MLSEL must satisfy a lot of conditions."

BMO Field's artificial surface allows the stadium to be used year-round.

The key issue is: If BMO Field becomes a facility that isn't available to the public whenever TFC or the national soccer program isn't using it, a replacement field must be erected downtown. Not in Etobicoke. Not in Scarborough. Not in North York. The cost of creating a new facility that is available to the public year-round would fall entirely to MLSEL, the owner of TFC.

Pantalone said there have been discussions between the city and MLSEL about converting Lamport Stadium, located near the corner of King and Dufferin, to a year-round soccer facility.

Real Madrid is playing DC United in Washington on Aug. 9. TFC has rescheduled a game with New York to free up its calendar for a rumoured game against Real in early August. Real wants to play one more game on its tour of North America, but Los Merengues won't play on FieldTurf.

A temporary grass field would be a solution.

OBSTACLES

But any plan to replace the FieldTurf with permanent natural grass by August would face obstacles.

The community leagues that use BMO Field would need assurances they have a place to play without interruptions to their schedules.

Pantalone said he's not sure there are enough council and Exhibition board meetings left before the August holiday to approve the change.

"As a community facility, BMO Field is sold out," Pantalone said. "It has been very successful for us."

Like Pantalone, Mayor David Miller would like to see grass at BMO Field, but he wants MLSEL to satisfy all the conditions.

Stuart Green, a spokesperson with the mayor's office, wrote in an e-mail: "Any permanent modifications to BMO such as grass are subject to the conditions of the Letter of Intent.

"As the mayor has said, his desire is to get a grass pitch at BMO and we are speaking to MLSEL about ways that can happen."

In the original agreement, MLSEL was to pay $8 million toward the $72.8-million soccer stadium and earn $10 million through the selling of the naming rights. The city kicked in $19.8 million in land considerations and cash. The rest came from the federal and provincial governments. The deal gave MLSEL the right to manage the facility for 20 years beginning with the 2007 season.

Another condition in the BMO deal allows the city and board to use the stadium on "a significant part of any available dates annually, on a cost recovery basis only," for the city, CNE, World Fair and Olympics.


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