A Beautiful Dream - Metro Vancouver

City missing out on world-calibre soccer as venue plans stagnate

By JEFF HODSON Metro Vancouver

An international soccer friendly between Canada and Brazil in Seattle next month is the latest in a laundry list of entertainment and sporting events missed because Vancouver lacks a suitable venue.

Bob Lenarduzzi, president of Whitecaps FC, said a list of high-profile events that Vancouver has or will miss out on include last summer’s FIFA World Cup U-20 Championships, the upcoming World Police and Fire Games and qualifying matches for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup.

“(Canada) will have three home World Cup qualifying games,” Lenarduzzi said. “But Vancouver’s not even on the radar screen for any of those … with a venue that seated 15,000 to 20,000 we would have been.”

The stadium could also have served as a celebratory meeting place during the 2010 Winter Olympics, a home for Canada’s rugby team and local varsity teams, as well as cultural events such as concerts and symphonies, Lenarduzzi said.

The ongoing saga began in 2003, when then mayor Sen. Larry Campbell approached Whitecaps FC owner Greg Kerfoot and encouraged him to build a new soccer stadium.

It was given conditional approval by city council three years later, but has since become bogged down in land negotiations with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

If the land can be worked out, the stadium deal goes back to City Hall for debate.

Vancouver Coun. Suzanne Anton, a proponent of the stadium, said it will be “the most spectacular venue in North America.”

“It will be a really multipurpose venue,” Anton said. “Right on our central waterfront. Good design. It will be absolutely spectacular.”

Negotiations between the port and the soccer club are complicated, she added, because of the value of the land.

Lenarduzzi also admits the placement of the stadium, above the railway tracks near the SeaBus terminal, has contributed to the slowness of the process.

“To be fair, we picked a site that’s not necessarily an easy one. There were issues with the train tracks and the residents in Gastown.”

Toronto’s new soccer stadium, BMO field, opened last year and Montreal’s brand new Saputo Stadium will host a World Cup qualifying match in June between Canada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Neither stadium was even contemplated when the Whitecaps started work on their waterfront stadium, Lenarduzzi said.

“We’ve given up on timelines. We’d just like to get it done ASAP.”

–jeff.hodson@metronews.ca