So city council votes 25-13 to approve borrowing $9.8 million and put up land worth $10 million to help build a $63 million soccer stadium at Exhibition Place that the city will own and the Maple Leafs will run -- "a terrific thing," says the mayor.
Hands up everyone who believes it.
Now, hands up everyone who hears the ominous word "SkyDome" in the background.
Is this an example of public and private enterprise joining together to do something worthy they couldn't do on their own? Or a white elephant in the making?
More questions: Why the rush? Who ever planted the seed that the MLS was some kind of jewel, worth pursuing with such breakneck urgency after that "deadline" of Oct 31 was imposed a few weeks back? Where is it written that Toronto just has to take centre stage for FIFA's 2007 world junior tournament -- if we're talking about supporting the game, Edmonton, for one, has a far better record. And after the MFP debacle, here we go, rushing into a deal without due process -- and just a few days after the latest notices of assessment went out, the ones with a double-digit percentage increase for tax purposes. Those optics stink.
There is some potential good here, as noted by Kevan Pipe, the CSA chief who has been chasing this stadium all over the city. It may well give top Canadian players a place to play in a decent league closer to home -- but it'd be interesting to ask internationals like Paul Stalteri and Jason De Vos about this. There's still much more money to be made overseas for a top-drawer footballer, compared to the MLS. Will it improve Canadian soccer -- we're No. 86 on the latest FIFA men's rankings, and No. 12 on the women's side, so it would seem we have nowhere to go but up -- and should we be in the business of using our money to get us there?
Will people support the game here? They haven't before. An MLSE official told me last month that their own figures indicate such a team, to break even, would need 16,000 fans a game -- a little higher than the 2004 MLS average of 15,559 -- paying about $25 a seat.
And oh, there is one thing: None of the feds or provincial moneys are in writing, so with flashbacks to the "new Varsity Stadium" in my head, a little advice -- don't go writing any of this down in ink just yet:
"Chief financial officer Joe Pennachetti said the city has reassurances that they are on board. And if they fail to deliver, then the city can back out."
Some of these arguments almost persuade me. I like soccer. I want to see Canada do well.
Then I think of that assessment notice, and I hear the Skydome's basso profundo, and it keeps repeating: Let private enterprise pay their own way on these sports stadiums.