Argos may have BMO Field deal by summer: owner
Discussions continuing between parties
A deal for the Toronto Argonauts to play at BMO Field could be reached as early as this summer, team owner David Braley said Thursday.
Braley met with Larry Tanenbaum on Tuesday before attending the Toronto Maple Leafs' 3-2 home loss to the Florida Panthers with the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman. Braley said that's not a sign a lease agreement is close but thinks one could be done by June 25 when the Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes kick off the 2015 CFL regular season.
"Yes, hopefully," Braley said. "It (Tanenbaum meeting) is the continuing of discussions to try and see if we can bring this to a resolution as soon as possible . . . but it's not going to be resolved tomorrow."
The Argos will be homeless after the 2017 season when their lease at Rogers Centre expires. A move to BMO Field would be a good fit for the team given it's an outdoor facility with parking and transit nearby.
BMO Field is currently undergoing a $120-million renovation, with the first phase scheduled for completion in time for this summer's Pan-Am Games. But the Argos' future is in limbo after final phase of the refurbishment, which includes the installation of a playing surface capable of accommodating a CFL franchise, was placed on the back burner due to a lack of funding from the provincial and federal governments.
The full renovation would boost BMO Field's permanent seating to 30,000, which could expand to 40,000 for special events. The facility would provide a more intimate, fan-friendly atmosphere than the cavernous Rogers Centre, which can hold over 50,000 spectators for football.
Funding commitments needed
Toronto has struggled to attract fans to Rogers Centre, averaging less than 18,000 spectators per game last year at the domed stadium. However, to make the BMO Field expansion complete — and ensure the installation of a football-friendly field — the feds and province must each make good on their $10-million funding commitments.
The Ontario Liberals are expected to get involved but not the federal government. Last November, CFL commissioner Mark Cohen said the league would see if it could make up the shortfall to ensure full completion of the project.
But Cohon left his post in January. His replacement isn't expected until early April.
Braley, 73, owns both Toronto and the B.C. Lions and has said he'll sell one or both by his 75th birthday. MLSE, which owns the NHL's Maple Leafs, NBA's Raptors and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, also operates BMO Field and has long been mentioned as having interest in the Argos.
Braley said while the idea of the Argos playing at BMO Field makes the most sense, challenges exist.
"There are some big hurdles to overcome and deal with," he said without providing specifics. "But there's never a hurdle that can't be overcome.
"It's just a question of if you can get over it or not."
Braley said ideally he'd prefer the matter be resolved sooner than later.
"Personally, I'd like it to be on track and ready to put to bed 30 days from now," he said. "But I don't know if that's possible.
"I do believe everyone will do the right thing that's in the best interests of BMO Field, the city of Toronto, CFL and Toronto Argonauts. That's what I believe will happen in the long run."