Real grass for Toronto FC in time for the 2010 Major League Soccer season could become a casualty of the civic workers' strike.
Team officials are unsure if approval for conversion from FieldTurf to the true green stuff will make it on to the agenda for an early October council meeting, when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., had hoped to have a joint proposal ready.
Council had its final meeting before summer break yesterday, dealing almost exclusively with fallout from the 39-day strike. September's business will largely be taken up by committees, including one that would be studying the issue of changing the turf at BMO Field of which the civic government is a partner. MLSEL would need some lead time before winter sets in to begin properly installing a grass field at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.
"It would be very tight," said Bob Hunter, MLSEL's executive vice-president for venues, as he supervised the laying of real grass yesterday for tomorrow's TFC-Real Madrid friendly.
"We would be cautiously optimistic if we had approval around the first of October. But city council has a lot on their agenda for that meeting. Obviously, the labour strife caused a lot of delay of any activity.
"We hope it's in for next year, but more likely it's the year after. There are four partners in the ownership and the big issue, rightfully so, is that this stadium was built for community use, so we have to provide an alternative if, in fact, the other three will allow us to convert."
Hunter was refering mainly to the board of governors of Exhibition Place and the city, which joined MLSEL in the 2006 stadium deal with the proviso that amateur athletes and groups also had use of the facility. MLSEL, which says it will foot the whole BMO conversion bill, has considered making community space at Lakeshore Lions, near its new four-pad hockey complex, as well as looking at revamping Lamport Stadium.
TFC players have led a vocal protest against the turf conditions at BMO, but Hunter says the constant community use contributed to premature wear and tear on the surface.
"A turf that should last you seven to eight years, after two years, is pretty well shot," he said. "But it's good news, bad news. If we don't do grass next year, we have to do something and that could potentially be the latest technology that FieldTurf can provide, for one season.
"We did 1,500 community hours last year, every night from five until midnight and (on weekends) noon until midnight. We have six teams on it playing community soccer.
"And if we were able to convert to grass, there will still be a number of community events here and the national team could use it more."