TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford calls the deal to use $30 million of public money to renovate BMO Field “crazy.”
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke says it’s actually a “good investment” that will in the long run save the city millions and even make them some money.
The battle lines are clearly drawn between two flamboyant leaders who are passionate about their positions.
To allow for the Toronto Argonauts to eventually play in an upgraded stadium, and to improve the experience on and off the pitch for Major League Soccer, MLSE has put forward a plan to invest $90 million into the team to go with $10 million from each of the province, the federal government and the city — with the city’s end being repaid with interest over a 20-year period.
Ford was the only member of city council’s executive committee to vote against the deal.
“It all comes from the same purse,” Ford said in an interview Monday. “It’s corporate welfare.”
The mayor said he wonders why MLSE doesn’t borrow the money from a traditional bank like BMO, whose name is on the stadium. Or use some of the estimated extra $17 million made from selling the naming rights to pay.
“We are not a bank,” said the mayor.
In fact, he said, for the city to partake in this “we have to borrow that money to lend it to them” and “that is not what government is supposed to do. To borrow money from the city like that is unheard of.”
Ford said he “can’t understand why the federal and provincial governments haven’t said something about it as well.”
His position is the taxpayers already paid $55 million to build the stadium.
But in an interview, Leiweke said he does not see it as a loan but more of an investment that will in the end save the city money.
The city-owned-stadium is subject to the winter and tough elements and will be in need of repair before long.
Instead of having to pay that, said Leiweke, MLSE is covering most of the expense and taking most of the risk by putting in a new roof to keep fans out of the rain and to protect the seats and structure.
“He must think we just fell off the turnip truck,” said Councillor Doug Ford, who teased he calls Leiweke “Mr. Hollywood.”
But to his credit Leiweke, who called out the mayor in a season ticket holders meeting by saying he was glad he was not on side, said he wanted to “settle down” the tiff and make it clear “I have nothing against the mayor” and “won’t be getting involved” in the mayoral election campaign or “supporting” any candidate.
He said he “gets” where the mayor is coming from and hopes he can better explain MLSE’s position.
“It’s not corporate welfare,” Leiweke insists. “For the community” it’s “a good, fair deal.”
Ford said he still has great respect for MLSE but just feels they have the money to pay for this renovation themselves.
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