Meanwhile, down on the waterfront

Lenarduzzi clings to venue vision after 18 months of port authority talks

Marc Weber
The Province

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Whitecaps might as well get used to standing up and being counted at Swangard because plans for a waterfront stadium appear no closer to fruition.

The Whitecaps might as well get used to standing up and being counted at Swangard because plans for a waterfront stadium appear no closer to fruition.

Sitting in his window office in The Landing, overlooking the proposed waterfront stadium location, Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi says he has a beautiful, yet cruel, view.

"When we first moved in," he said, "a fairly common occurrence was visualizing what it would look like and it's still something you do when you look out at the mountains and the water -- it would be a fantastic backdrop for a stadium.

"I guess I've got the point ... I still have the vision, but I don't have it as regularly as when I first moved in."

Lenarduzzi remains optimistic but his waning window gazing is a good indication of how frustrated he's been negotiating with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

The Whitecaps have been in talks with the VFPA for about 18 months since city council unanimously approved the proposal.

Owner Greg Kerfoot is committed to building the $75-million facility, and the Whitecaps have been negotiating a land exchange with the VFPA that would see Whitecaps-owned land over rail yards along Waterfront Road swapped for vacant port land close to the Helijet terminal.

Anne McMullin, a spokeswoman for the VFPA, did not return phone calls Thursday, but past comments indicate that the sticking point could be comparable land value -- an independent appraiser was assessing the plots -- or it could be potential land use.

Neither side is willing to get into the details. "We're inclined to keep that between the port and ourselves," said Lenarduzzi.

While the Whitecaps try to swap their rail yards land, Major League Soccer is moving full steam ahead with expansion.

San Jose is in this season, Seattle will be the 15th franchise starting in 2009, and Philadelphia joins in 2010. MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke highly of Vancouver in August, calling it a "fantastic market," but a new stadium is essential for the franchise to be considered.

Various media reports have MLS capping the league at 18 teams by 2011, and several potential franchises are already lined up.

The Montreal Impact -- the Whitecaps season-opening opponents Saturday -- are one of them, set to open their $15-million, 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium this season, paid for by the Saputo family.

And when Montreal's home opener rolls around on May 19, guess who the visiting team will be?

"It will be a very vivid reminder," Lenarduzzi said of christening the Impact's new home. "In both cases [Saputo Stadium and Toronto FC's BMO Field], our process started much, much earlier."

In a cheeky but poignant Saputo-sponsored halftime contest at Swangard on Saturday, three contestants will express why they want to cheer on the Whitecaps at a new waterfront stadium. The winner receives four tickets to fly to Montreal for the May 19 match at Saputo Stadium.

"The minute [Toronto FC] got the new building and the new league, interest just catapulted and Montreal is going to be the same," Lenarduzzi said.

In Philadelphia, stakeholders came together on a $414-million waterfront development that will include an 18,500-seat stadium.

The Delaware River Port Authority chipped in $10 million.

"It's significant that they're investing in it," Lenarduzzi said of the DRPA. "It's a very comparable situation in that they're building on the waterfront as well. And they negotiated with the port. And the port wrote a cheque for $10 million.

"What we want to do is strike the best deal for them and the best deal for us. We've been trying to achieve that.

"We're still communicating. It could be worse."