Paul Bronfman pushes for better disabled sightlines at the ACC.
Canadian film mogul Paul Bronfman, who uses a scooter for mobility, is frustrated with the disabled seating at the Air Canada Centre. The longtime Leafs seasons-ticket holder can’t see the ice any time those in front of him get to their feet. He is seen at a game with girlfriend Isabel Fortea. By: Ashante Infantry
Published on Sun Feb 01 2015
A wealthy businessman complaining about the poor sightlines of his NHL seats hardly elicits sympathy; and Paul Bronfman doesn’t want any. He just wants parity.
The Canadian film mogul’s charmed life includes his main gig as chairman and CEO of Comweb Group Inc., a multimillion-dollar operation that contributes either equipment, services or studio space to about 60 per cent of all film and television work shot in Canada; a swank downtown condo; and a private jet to maintain a high-flying style despite the multiple sclerosis that has taken the use of his arms and legs, requiring round-the-clock assistants and the most advanced communication technology.
While Bronfman’s company spends about $70,000 annually on seven gold and platinum Toronto Maple Leafs seats, a good view for himself at the Air Canada Centre is the thing his money can’t help.
“It’s a constant battle trying to see,” said the Montreal native of the $175 seats he occupies in the stadium’s non-luxury Accessible Seating section. According to Bronfman, the row directly in front of the disability seating is too high and when patrons jump to their feet after a goal or exciting play, those behind, who can’t stand, also can’t see.
“At a concert – I’ve never seen an encore, I’ve never seen the band say goodbye, because everybody’s standing up,” he explained. “The kids that come in wheelchairs, hospital beds, they don’t see a thing.
“If it was a proper wheelchair section it wouldn’t be an issue; they did it exactly according to code – the bare minimum,” said Bronfman. “The law says that people with disabilities have the right to enjoy the same experience. That hasn’t been happening at the ACC for 15 years.”
A Leafs season ticket holder since 1978, Bronfman said over the years he has voiced his concerns at the highest levels – to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and executive Bob Hunter. He believes a solution could be found in raising the accessible seating or lowering the row in front.
“They gave me every reason why they couldn’t,” said Bronfman. “I know there’s a fix. I’m into facilities. I’ve built film studios.”
In email provided to the Star, Wayne Zronik, vice president of Facilities and Live Entertainment for MLSE, said: “Working to continually enhance the experience for every patron with accessible needs is a constant priority for Air Canada Centre. While our accessible seating area was built to code, we strive to go above and beyond to ensure that every fan has a first-class experience at every event we host.
“In the case of Mr. Bronfman, our inability to resolve his concern to date is not a function of economics, but a function of engineering. We will continue to explore every new technology, and other seating options within Air Canada Centre, to address this issue.”
Long-time disability rights advocate David Lepofsky said building codes are a poor excuse for companies serving the public.
“The building code has always been out of date on accessibility,” he explained. “Issues like how to position seats in a stadium are typically not adequately addressed, which is why we need the government to do a better job under the Disabilities Act.”
Lepofsky chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which has been lobbying the province for better regulation and enforcement of the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is being phased in with full public accessibility legislated by 2025.
“The organizations think the building code is it; how about the Human Rights Code, which guarantees the rights of equal treatment in services and facilities, like the ACC, not just jobs, without discrimination because of disability?
“It’s not enough for an organization to say ‘Oh well, this is what we did, but that’s what we got’. If people come forward and say ‘It’s not working’ and if their request is a reasonable one, then it’s only in their interest to be able to serve as broad an audience as they can. And our society is aging, so there are going to be more people who are going to need those seats.”
While workplace and transit accessibility certainly take priority for the 1.5 million Ontarians with physical, mental or sensory disabilities, Bronfman’s ACC experience “is illustrative of what we face over and over again,” said Lepofsky, citing the upcoming taxpayer-funded Pan Am and Parapan Games.
“They’re expecting upwards of a quarter of a million people to (attend the Games this summer), which will include people with disabilities, but we don’t have a comprehensive plan to ensure that our tourism and hospitality industry can accommodate them. They don’t even know whether they’re going to have accessible transit to get to the Games. If you can’t get there, who cares what goes on at them?”
Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau has said the government is working with the tourism industry on an Accessibility Tourism Directory that will list the most accessible hotels, restaurants and other venues.
Bronfman said his overall experience at the other big Toronto venues is better.
“Rogers Centre has done a pretty good job,” putting the wheelchair area “in the top of the first grandstand, so people in wheelchairs are sitting far away from the action, but at least the seats in front of that, which is really Level 100 when you come in from the street, are lower.
“At Molson Amphitheatre, maybe because they’re owned by an American company, they seem to be more tuned in to the accessibility issue. They did have handicapped seating in the front row of the first section; now they put you in the back row, but they built these risers, so you roll up the riser and you’re above everybody.”
The sports lover and avid music aficionado, who also owns a luxe South Beach condo, can’t help but make access and seating comparisons for disabled people to American arenas where he routinely attends games and concerts. He is a champion of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs access for the disabled in public spaces.
“You come in, you valet park your car, as soon as they see you on a scooter they instantly come to life,” he said of Florida’s AmericanAirlines Arena, where he saw the Miami Heat play on Christmas Day. “The whole arena is accessible and there’s a wheelchair section in every section.”
There are no plans to boycott the ACC, however.
“I’m not giving up my Leafs seats,” Bronfman said ruefully, “and I’ll continue to go to concerts and I’ll suck it in, because I have no choice.”