TORONTO — It appears the Toronto Argonauts have found a new home — and owner.
A league source confirmed Tuesday that the CFL team is on the verge of being sold to Bell and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum.
The deal would pave the way for the Argos to play in BMO Field, pending renovations needed to accommodate the CFL field. It’s expected those could be done in time to have the team play at the lakefront stadium in 2016.
The Argonauts will be homeless after the 2017 season when their lease at Rogers Centre expires. But they can leave earlier if they find a new venue.
Absent from the deal is Rogers, which is part of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ownership group with Bell and Tanenbaum.
Rogers was reportedly not interested in acquiring the football team.
Rogers, which owns the Rogers Centre and Toronto Blue Jays, prompted the Argo search for a new home by telling them the plan to install grass in the dome meant they had to leave.
The Argos are owned by David Braley, who also owns the B.C. Lions.
BMO Field, a city-owned stadium that’s home to Toronto FC, is undergoing a $120-million renovation with MLSE footing most of the bill.
The first phase, completed earlier this month, added some 8,000 seats in the form of a second tier to the east stand, as well as more premium club options.
The second phase, to be completed by May 2016, involves putting on a canopy around three sides of the lakefront stadium as well as installing a new audio and lighting system.
To convert the field for CFL play, the seats in the north stand will have to be reconfigured while the first seven or eight rows in the south stand will have to be converted into retractable, removable seats.
New, bigger dressing rooms will also have to be built to accommodate football.
Bob Hunter, MLSE’s chief project development officer, estimated the cost of CFL conversion at anywhere from $20 million to $23 million.
Some soccer fans have opposed the idea of converting BMO Field for the Argos, contending that CFL play will impact the quality of the playing surface. A banner saying “No Argos @BMO” was hung on the south stands at the last Toronto FC home game.
Outgoing MLSE CEO and president Tim Leiweke insists soccer fans will notice no difference if CFL football is played at the stadium.
Other hope that the move to a more intimate setting from the cavernous Rogers Centre will help revive football in Toronto, as it did in Montreal.
The Canadian Press