Plan for Toronto football stadium crumbles

The Toronto Argonauts won't be moving uptown in 2006 after all. Plans for a new 25,000-seat stadium for the CFL team at the University of Toronto have been put on hold due to escalating costs.

University officials were forced to abandon plans for the stadium when costs reached $100 million.

Since 2000, a plan has been in place to rebuild a stadium on the old Varsity Stadium grounds. In May, a partnership was announced between the university, the Toronto Argonauts and the Canadian Soccer Association to build a new facility.

It was to include an eight-lane running track, regulation-size football and soccer field as well as retail and commercial space at an estimated cost of $80 million.

"We are deeply disappointed that we will not be moving forward with this exciting and innovative project," said Jon Dellandrea, vice-president and chief advancement officer, in a statement. "Unfortunately, rising costs force us to make this fiscally-responsible decision."

The announcement has a great impact on the Argos and Soccer Canada.

The Argos, desperate to move out of the SkyDome, hoped to play at the outdoor stadium in effort to rekindle interest in the football team. The Montreal Alouettes made a similar move with great success.

"We were surprised," said Argos co-owner Howard Sokolowski, adding that the club is still looking into opening the 2006 CFL season in a more fan-friendly venue, but that goal now seems unlikely.

"Obviously after yesterday we are reassessing that position," said Sokolowski, whose season-ticket base had increased by news of the proposed venue.

The projected stadium was also going to act as the new home for the national soccer team and was one of the main factors to FIFA awarding Canada the 2007 World Youth Championship. The under-20 tournament is second only to the World Cup in size.

Kevan Pipe, chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association, said he only found out about the decision on Wednesday night and was caught off guard. He immediately called FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, president of the CONCACAF confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, to inform him of the setback.

"He said 'fine, keep me posted, keep me posted closely and let's get on to the challenge of building the stadium in another location in Toronto,'" Pipe said.

Pipe added that the CSA has already started looking at other potential sites, along with the Argos.

"Certainly we're not going to cry over spilt milk here," he said. "The reality is the Varsity Stadium site is dead. You have to acknowledge that and move on."

U of T recognizes it needs a stadium, but it's not known if the new plans will include the Argos and Soccer Canada.