Above: From left, Toronto Argonauts owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, Gary Brewer, York vice-president, finance & administration
York gave Toronto a taste of "the game-day experience" Monday as the University, the owners of the Toronto Argonauts Football Club, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the federal and provincial governments announced a deal to build a 25,000-seat stadium on the Keele campus. The $70-million facility, which will become home to Toronto’s professional football and soccer franchises and open in 2006, was unveiled to a large crowd in the Tait McKenzie Centre, resplendent with cheerleaders, bands and representatives from dozens of national and local media outlets.
"We are excited to be coming to York...where we are both welcome and wanted," said Argos co-owner and former York student David Cynamon. He said having a public-sector partner like York was key to his club’s goal of creating an "intimate and fan-friendly stadium" that would provide a quality "game-day experience" for both football and soccer fans. Cynamon, who played football for the former York Yeomen from 1983 to 1986, noted that the stadium would put front-row fans as close as six yards to the on-field action.
Right: Cynamon and Sokolowski speak to media
"York is proud to be home to this superb sports stadium, further enhancing our position as a premier sports and recreation destination in the GTA," said York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. "York students, including a wide variety of York teams, will be the beneficiaries of this new facility, which will be used for sporting events and training throughout the year."
The stadium is being funded by the federal and provincial governments, York and an investor group led by Cynamon and Argos co-owner Howard Sokolowski. "This $70 million project is an example of successful co-operation between governments, York University, amateur and professional sports," said Joe Volpe, the federal minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area, who confirmed that Ottawa will contribue $27 million toward the cost of the new stadium. Volpe congratulated Marsden for "rallying around the concept."
Right: Joe Volpe, minister responsible for the GTA, with York Lions women's soccer team captain
"This will truly be a resource for the whole community," Volpe said, adding that York is very keen to work with local schools, youth and community groups in the surrounding areas to ensure that they can benefit from the new facilities. Jim Bradley, Ontario minister of tourism and recreation, also spoke of how the stadium would serve the needs of the local community, the University and athletes across Ontario.
In addition to Ottawa's $27 million, York will provide land and $15 million from its capital budget towards construction, private capital led by Cynamon and Sokolowski will contribute another $20 million and the Ontario government will provide $8 million. York, which will own the facility, will share in stadium revenue, which is projected to cover the University's initial outlay. The Argos will be responsible for any operating shortfall in a given year.
A much-needed world-class venue for Canadian soccer, the new stadium was a key element of Canada's bid for the FIFA Men’s Under-20 World Youth Championship in the summer of 2007. Kevan Pipe, chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association, said having a stadium that exceeds required standards for international soccer will allow Canada to bid for other international events in the future. "This will be soccer’s ‘theatre of dreams’ for decades to come," he said.
Left: Kevan Pipe, CEO of the Canadian Soccer Association
Following the official announcement, the assembled officials and media members moved out onto the playing field next to the Ice Arena. Even migrating geese watched intently as members of the York cheerleaders performed and costumed mascots from both the Argos and York Lions moved to each photo opportunity as it appeared in the form of a media scrum. With the announcement of the stadium anticipated for more than a week, reporters quickly cornered team and government spokespersons, looking for construction details and comments on its location at York.
Right: Argos head coach Mike 'Pinball' Clemons teaches Marsden proper handoff receiving technique
When the Argonauts announced plans to build a new home that would allow scheduling of games at times that did not conflict with other SkyDome events, York was one of the sites first considered. University planners had already proposed a regional sports centre that would serve both the University’s needs and those of community organizations in the northwest quadrant of the GTA. York’s 60,000-member community, young soccer players, local organizations, and sport, entertainment and athletic groups will all benefit from the new stadium, which will be easily accessible by both public transit and by car, because of the proximity of highways 400, 401 and 407.
Cynamon acknowledged debate among fans over the Argos' earlier site at the University of Toronto versus York. The two sites were always "neck and neck," he said, noting that 65 per cent of the Argo fan base lives north of the 401. "All we know is that when Howard and I woke up this morning – separately, of course – we had a great feeling in our stomach and in our hearts that this was the right decision," said Cynamon. "We understand this area. We understand the demographics, we understand the growth. This is the fastest growing area in Canada. So we’re looking at it from a business perspective also. This [York site] is the future. And when we finally do get a subway system here, this will be the absolute ultimate site. Right now it is the best site. But it will be the ultimate site."
Cynamon played down concerns about transport, pointing to the ease of highway access. "This is not way up in the sticks anymore," he told a downtown reporter. "York University is central." He said the team would include this in its marketing.
Sokolowski said the atmosphere at the weekend games would be very fan-friendly, with people encouraged to arrive early and have picnics. And in reference to media reports about the York stadium possibly hosting a Grey Cup, Sokolowski said the facility would be able to add an extra 15,000-20,000 temporary seats, similar to arrangements at the nearby Rexall Centre for tennis.
Left: York alumnus Tom Wright (MBA '78), commissioner of the Canadian Football League
Monday’s announcement included appearances by cheerleaders from both the Argos and York Sport and Recreation, as well as members of the York Lions football team and women’s soccer team. As he spoke, Cynamon acknowledged several Argonaut players in attendance who are also York alumni. Marsden was quick to point out with a smile that Argo head coach Michael Clemons, who received an honorary doctorate from York in 2000, should be referred to as "Doctor Clemons". York alumnus Tom Wright (MBA ’78), now commissioner of the Canadian Football League, attended, as did federal Social Development Minister Ken Dryden, who is MP for York Centre, Senator Jerry Grafstein and Susan Kadis, MP for Thornhill. Other elected officials included York West MPP Mario Sergio, Thornhill MPP Mario Racco, Toronto city councillors Maria Augimeri and Peter LiPreti, York Region Chair Bill Fisch and Vaughan Mayor Michael Di Biase.
Right and below: artist's concept of new stadium