NEWS
05/03/2016 13:36 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 01:12 EDT

BMO Field ready for Toronto FC home opener with new canopy, lights and sound system

TORONTO — Thanks to the co-operation of Mother Nature and a lot of hard labour, BMO Field will be open for business as planned Saturday.

A new canopy, sound and lighting system, the final parts of a $150-million two-year renovation, will greet a sellout crowd of 30,000 at Toronto FC's long-awaited home opener against FC Dallas.

Stage 1, which took place after the 2014 MLS season, saw a 8,400-seat second tier as well additional washrooms and concessions added to the east stand. A new video board was installed while the east and west stands were linked by a concourse above the south stand. Luxury dining/drinking options were also added. 

Stage 2 was more heavy lifting. Big cranes, heavy roof panels. Lots of steel and tractor-trailers.

"The complexity of the job was much more heavy construction than it was finishing-type construction," said Bob Hunter, chief project development officer for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

A mild winter has meant the project is finishing on schedule, save the final touches to a second elevator in the west stand. But Hunter says that too is nearing completion.

More work is needed on the Argonauts' dressing room but Hunter says it will be done ahead of the CFL team's opening pre-season game June 11.

Hunter says recent rain slowed installation of the artificial turf in the endzones because drier conditions are needed to lay the surface immediately below the turf. The new grass field is down, however, and being regularly fed by giant growlights.

The stadium lights have been tested in the evening. Toronto FC will likely practise at BMO on Thursday evening to get accustomed to them.

While the new canopy, lights and sound will no doubt enhance the stadium experience, Hunter says TFC fans will see a lot of familiar sights. One change will come in the north end which will be more festive thanks to some 500 fans willing to watch the game standing in a patio zone.

There will be movable rows of seats at both ends to cover the CFL endzones.

It's worth noting that MLSE calls the cover atop the east, west and south stands a canopy rather than a roof. And because of structural demands, there are gaps between the canopy and the top of the stands. Just how much cover the canopy will provide will likely hinge on the nature of the rain and wind and where you are seated.

There is a 40 per cent chance of precipitation Saturday so fans will likely soon find out what it all means.

"Each experience, as we go through it, will define to people what they should and shouldn't be expecting," said Hunter.

Still any cover will be welcome at the lakefront stadium.

As at last season's home opener, Saturday's crowd will include the PCL workers who rebuilt the stadium.

BMO Field, whose construction was linked to the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup and getting an MLS expansion team, was originally built on a shoestring budget of $62.9 million.

Capacity will be just under 27,000 for the Argonauts, whose regular-season home opener is June 23. BMO Field should be able to accommodate 35,000 to 38,000 for the Grey Cup and Winter Classic with the addition of temporary stands.

Toronto FC (3-3-2) stands third in the Eastern Conference. FC Dallas (5-3-2) is third in the West.

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press