Toronto city council approves soccer stadium deal

Toronto's city council on Thursday voted to help fund the construction of a 20,000-seat soccer stadium, paving the way for Major League Soccer to award the city an expansion franchise.

City council voted 25-13 in favour of committing $9.8 million towards the $62.8-million stadium project originally put forward by the Canadian Soccer Association. The city will also provide the waterfront land for the stadium at Exhibition Place, valued at $10 million.

Ottawa will contribute $27 million, while Queen's Park will chip in another $8 million. The federal and provincial governments agreed to make financial contributions after the CSA won the right to stage the 2007 FIFA world youth championships in Canada.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which also owns the NHL's Maple Leafs and the NBA's Raptors, will commit $8 million to the construction of the facility. Naming rights are expected to account for another $10 million.

MLSE, which is vying to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Toronto in 2007, will cover all construction cost over-runs. MLSE will also cover annual operating losses up to $250,000 and split with the city any losses beyond that.

The Canadian Soccer Association, City of Toronto and MLSE have already come to terms on a 20-year agreement on how to run the stadium. MLSE will operate the venue, which will be owned by the city.

Major League Soccer has been negotiating terms over an expansion franchise with MLSE, but the talks hit snags when two stadium proposals fell apart in the last year. Earlier this month, league commissioner Don Garber gave MLSE an Oct. 31 deadline to finalize plans for the construction of a new stadium or it would give an expansion club to another city.

Mayor David Miller spoke in favour of the plan Thursday, but some councillors objected to the speed in which the plan was put forward.

''I think it's going to come back and haunt us by the way,'' said Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti. ''It smells.''

''We don't need a stadium right now,'' added Coun. Rob Ford. ''It's the last thing we need.''

With the stadium deal approved, Major League Soccer looks set to award Toronto a franchise when its board of governors meets on Nov. 12 to vote on whether to admit as many as two new teams for the 2007 season. Other cities being considered for expansion to the 12-team league are Houston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

"We look forward to working with the three levels of government as we prepare for construction of the stadium in early 2006 and while we finalize our franchise agreement with Major League Soccer," said Richard Peddie, president of MLSE.

"Toronto would be an excellent addition to Major League Soccer under the leadership of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, one of the preeminent sports and entertainment companies in the world," commissioner Garber said. "We are enthusiastic about bringing an MLS team to Toronto and are prepared to host the 2008 All-Star Game and an MLS Cup in Toronto by 2012."

The stadium deal appeared dead in May when the CFL's Toronto Argonauts announced they were staying at the Rogers Centre, a move that jeopardized the Canadian Soccer Association's plans to build a new outdoor stadium at York University.

In deciding not to relocate to York for the 2007 season, the Argos also withdrew the $20 million it originally pledged to the building of the new stadium. After the Argos pulled out, the university followed suit and took off the table the $15 million it committed towards the project.

The Canadian Soccer Association's stadium deal was revived, however, when negotiations between Major League Soccer and MLSE escalated over the past few months.