The City of Toronto cleared a major hurdle toward getting a Major League Soccer franchise in 2007 Friday, approving the construction of a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium on the grounds of Exhibition Place.
The Toronto City Council voted 25 to 13 in favor of the proposed $57.9-million stadium project, which in addition to potentially housing an MLS team would be the centerpiece of the 2007 FIFA World Youth Championship.
On Oct. 11, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the league had granted Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment exclusive rights through Oct. 31 to negotiate an agreement to acquire an MLS team. The most significant obstacle toward reaching that agreement was whether the construction of a soccer-specific stadium - considered necessary to financial well being of MLS and its teams - would be agreed upon in time. After Friday's vote, both MLSE and MLS expressed optimism that a deal will be done by Monday.
"I applaud the council for acting in the best interest of the City of Toronto, for a wide variety of community groups and all Torontonians in general. The stadium and its construction will create jobs, drive economic development and tourism, and create a larger stage for Toronto to hold international sports and entertainment events. It will also support further growth for soccer in Canada," said Richard Peddie, President of MLSE.
"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 Garber: "Today's city council vote represents a historic moment for the city of Toronto and Canadian soccer. We look forward to continuing to work with MLSE to finalize an agreement for an MLS expansion team."
MLSE has agreed to pay $15.3 million toward the stadium ($6.8 million for construction and $8.5 million to secure naming rights), while the Canadian government will contribute $22.9 million and the Ontario Government has committed $6.8 million. The City of Toronto itself is putting forth $8.3 million and will own the stadium. MLSE will be responsible for management of the facility.
The MLS Board of Governors is due to meet on Nov. 12, a day before MLS Cup 2005, in Frisco, Texas to discuss proposals and vote to admit one or two teams for the 2007 season. Garber has mentioned Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and St. Louis as leading candidates.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.