Whitecaps closer to new home - The Delta Optimist

Sandor Gyarmati

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi has been in discussions with civic officials to develop a training centre at John Oliver Park in East Delta.

After months of negotiations, Delta has moved a step closer to having a world-class soccer training facility at John Oliver Park.

At Delta council's weekly meeting Monday, CAO George Harvie announced the municipality has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vancouver Whitecaps for the soccer club to construct a training centre with playing fields and other park improvements. It has a price tag of approximately $25 million.

Delta, which would pay for the necessary roadway improvements to the park in East Delta, would provide a 60-year lease to the Whitecaps for a portion of the park that would be used exclusively by the soccer club. The remaining portion would be controlled by Delta for community use.

"I once again have to reiterate this is a very first blush ... We have all met with Mr. (Whitecaps president Bobby) Lenarduzzi relative to all the discussions and what their national team could be doing, and it could be here in Delta," said Mayor Lois Jackson.

"We do have to ensure that Delta is getting a good deal, but this is only the opening of the door to any future discussions ..."

Although details of what will be constructed haven't been released, part of the project includes incorporating the historic John Oliver Barn as well as construction of artificial turf fields. The portion controlled by Delta would be available for the Whitecaps when not used by the community.

In an interview earlier this year, Lenarduzzi told the Optimist the new facility would be the primary practice centre for the Whitecaps men's professional team. The facility would also be the main practice centre for many of the club's youth development teams that play during the summer.

"The bottom line is, if you look at the sport there's a woeful lack of facilities, a woeful lack of fields, and we would like to try to be a part of solving part of that problem," said Lenarduzzi. Final agreements still need to be developed, according to the memorandum, which states the Whitecaps would be responsible for developing the project to a standard acceptable to Delta, as well as phase it in to allow for community use. Harvie said before a lease deal ever reaches the council table, community consultation would have to take place.

"This is only a document with regards to moving forward. It doesn't commit and isn't legally binding on both parties," he said.

Saying it's an exciting opportunity, Coun. Jeannie Kanakos suggested a reciprocal agreement also be made in which Delta can use the Whitecaps' portion of the facility, when not in use by the soccer club, in order to host major soccer tournaments.

Under the memorandum, the Whitecaps would provide approximately $400,0000 to Delta and the municipality would use that money to terminate the existing license agreement it has with the Ex-Britannia Rugby Association, the group that has an agreement in place with Delta to use John Oliver Park.

Under the memorandum, the Whitecaps would be responsible for operational costs associated with their lease area, including payment of any taxes, while Delta would be responsible for operational costs associated with the area under its control.

If the Whitecaps cease to exist, the assets would revert to Delta. The Whitecaps have embarked on a program called Vision 2011, a four-year plan to enhance all aspects of the organization, including fan loyalty, ticket sales, new facilities, youth and player development, and community relations. Harvie said the development of a new training facility is also part of the club's ongoing bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.

The Whitecaps already have a presence in Delta after launching a soccer academy this year in partnership with the school district.
© The Delta Optimist 2008