03/21/2014 06:47 EDT | Updated 05/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Leiweke says BMO Field renovation will make the stadium world-renowned

TORONTO - After rain at 17 of Toronto FC's 19 home games last season, an overnight snowfall in advance of the 2014 home opener isn't entirely out of character.

MLSE boss Tim Leiweke takes solace from the fact that the forecast calls for the temperature to warm up during the day. But the grass will be less than perfect.

"I bet we're going to see a pretty ripped up field because it's soft and it's wet," Leiweke told The Canadian Press on Friday. "We don't love the idea of our world-class players going out there on a pitch where we're going to have a lot of moving turf and a lot of divots. That's how players get hurt.

"So hopefully nothing bad happens (Saturday)."

Leiweke has a solution all planned out. And if he gets $30 million in public money, he's ready to spend another $90 million of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment's cash to make it happen.

A hybrid grass surface is just part of the planned $120-million facelift for BMO Field, which opened in April 2007 and currently seats around 21,500.

The plan is to increase permanent seating to 30,000 with the ability to add temporary seating that would raise that total to 40,000, with an eye to hosting an outdoor NHL game.

Add in a roof over the stands and the ability to accommodate CFL football, the latter mandated by the City of Toronto.

The MLSE CEO will meet with season Toronto FC ticket-holders before Saturday's game against D.C. United to discuss the proposed renovation.

Almost evangelical in his discussions on the improvements, Leiweke says the revamped stadium will offer fans protection from the elements and ramp up the atmosphere in what is already the third-oldest stadium in MLS.

"We want to be the toughest place for a club to come in and play in in all of Major League Soccer and I want our environment to be renowned around the world as being one of the great experiences in live sports," Leiweke said. "And I think the roof does both."

He has to do a delicate dance since announcing expansion plans.

MLS has long maintained soccer-specific stadiums are the way to go. The improvements to BMO Field seem to make it less soccer-specific. Lewieke answers that by saying it will still be better for soccer.

TFC fans have worried that the stadium might revert to artificial turf, despite repeated denials by Leiweke.

The plan now is for a hybrid surface, which is already used by Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham as well as Wembley Stadium and the World Cup venues in Brazil.

"This is THE best surface in the world," said Leiweke. "And the best clubs in the world have all gone to this system."

Leiweke pointed to Wembley in London, saying the surface had held up during a one-month period that saw two NFL games and two training sessions, two rugby matches and four soccer games.

"It's not cheap but what it will do is it will take our current surface and make it better, because it allows the real grass and its roots to grow around the implanted artificial roots."

Less than 10 per cent of the surface is the hybrid product. The rest is below ground so the real grass "becomes harder and tougher and it doesn't move as much."

The blueprint calls for the field to be lengthened to provide 20-yard endzones for the CFL with the stands at each end on rollers so they can be moved as needed.

Logos for CFL play will be restricted to the end zones, to keep the rest of the field pristine for soccer.

"There is dialogue going on," Leiweke said. "Do we have an agreement done yet with the Argos? No. Will we have to do one in short order if the city council approves? Yes.

"Because the lease and the deal with the city are dependent on locking in a solution for the Argos."

The Argonauts have to be out of the Rogers Centre by the end of the 2017 season.

The MLSE board has approved the renovations, including "a CFL solution" as per the City's mandate.

"It does not mean that our owners have approved us owning the Argos," added Leiweke. "That's still a separate decision and we'll follow their lead.

"But we can get the solution that the City is requesting without us having to own the Argos."

BMO Field is currently owned by the City of Toronto and run by MLSE.

MLSE is counting on $10 million each from the municipal, provincial and federal governments to help pay for improvements.

The City of Toronto's executive committee has already approved its contribution — with only Mayor Rob Ford voting no — with a full council vote scheduled for April.

"Based on everything we know and hear, I think that will go well," Leiweke said.

More work is needed on the provincial and federal governments.

"We still have to do a lot of cajoling," Leiweke said.

That has started already, with MLSE pointing to the fact that the stadium was essentially built with public money.

"We've come to them now saying 'Even though your old formula means you should be on the hook for most of this and even though it remains a city stadium on federal land, we'll step in and we'll put up almost all the money," Leiweke said. "But it's important that you guys participate based on the original formula and by the way, the economic impact from what we're going to do on this stadium is going to have a huge impact both within the province and federally for a long period of time to come.

"And so they need to participate. It's critical that they understand that they're the key to this now coming forward ... We're going to need then because without them, the whole deal falls apart."

Of course, one could argue that MLSE fell into a sweetheart deal with the original stadium plan.

The federal government contributed $27 million and the province $8 million to the $62.9-million stadium. The city provided a shade under $10 million and the land.

MLSE paid $18 million, getting back a good chunk via naming rights, and took care of the US$10-million MLS expansion fee. Orlando City, the league's newest team expected to begin play in 2015, is paying some US$70 million in expansion fees.

Leiweke says the plan for the first phase of the stadium renovation is to be completed by June 2015 in time for the Pan-American Games, adding 10,000 seats for the rugby sevens competition.

Phase 2 will start after the Games, with a completion date of May 2016. That would mostly involve the roof.

The schedule means Toronto FC should be able to play its MLS schedule undisturbed, although it may have to play CONCACAF Champions League games elsewhere if it makes the competition.

"At this point I don't think that's a problem but it would be nice for us to have that problem," said Leiweke. "So let's get into that tournament first and then we'll worry about scheduling."