New roof, BC Place upgrades could cost $365-million - The Globe and Mail

PavCo chairman declines to say how much of that will go for retractable canopy
ROD MICKLEBURGH

VANCOUVER -- Believe it or not, there are mild, moonlit nights and idyllic afternoons bereft of driving rain on the West Coast, and not too long from now, local sports fans will finally get to enjoy them while watching the hometown B.C. Lions or Vancouver Whitecaps.

But the price for installing a sophisticated, state-of-the-art retractable roof that can be rolled up when the weather is good over BC Place, currently covered by a fixed dome, is not cheap.

Stadium officials revealed for the first time yesterday that the total cost of fixing up the 25-year-old facility for the future, including its spectacular new covering, will be as much as $365-million, nearly three times the original $126-million price tag for BC Place itself.

"That's an eye-popping number," fumed provincial NDP critic Rob Fleming, who charged that the bill has soared because of Liberal government indecision.

"They were told three years ago that the lifespan of the current roof was nearing an end and needed to be replaced, but they avoided the decision for far too long," Mr. Fleming said. "This was originally supposed to be a $60-million project."

PavCo, the Crown corporation in charge of the provincially owned structure, said most of the money for the roof and necessary upgrades will come from the sale of land around BC Place, existing cash reserves, increased business and sponsorship opportunities and significant operational savings.

The goal is to have the retractable roof in place by the spring or early summer of 2011, with work to begin immediately after the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The fabric covering will replace the mushroom-shaped, white Teflon dome that has protected BC Place from the elements, including sunshine, since the building went up in 1983, except for an embarrassing temporary deflation a year ago.

"The roof is going to be dramatically different, with a very different character," said PavCo chairman David Podmore. "It will be a showpiece for the city, a real icon."

Mr. Podmore declined to say how much of the $365-million would be needed just for the roof, with the rest used for refurbishing the interior in time for the Olympics, deferred maintenance and structural improvements.

The top will be similar to the retractable roof used to cover the renovated football stadium in Frankfurt, Germany, scene of recent World Cup soccer matches and used long ago by the Nazis for huge pro-Hitler rallies.

The Frankfurt fabric spread folds up and disappears into a large cone-like structure in the centre of the stadium when it is not being used. The complex process to open and close the roof takes about 20 minutes.

Mr. Podmore said about a dozen other facilities around the world already use this type of flexible roof. "We didn't want to experiment, although to retrofit it to an existing building, as we are doing, is rare."

He said PavCo does not anticipate financing difficulties, despite the economic downturn, which has deflated real-estate values and curbed business activity, both of which are being counted on to provide revenue for the project.

Adjacent land owned by the Crown corporation does not have to go on the market immediately, and corporate sponsorship commitments can wait, Mr. Podmore contended.

"This is a long-term program. The building was in awful condition and we have extended it by 30 years. There's nearly three years of work ahead, so we can pick our time in the market," he said. "We can go at everything cautiously, so I am not fussed about the current economic environment."

The project will also provide badly needed construction jobs, Mr. Podmore added. Two hundred workers are already on site to begin structural upgrades for the roof and to improve the stadium's woeful concessions and washroom facilities in time for the 2010 Olympics. BC Place will host the opening and closing ceremonies, and the nightly medal presentations.

"All told this will create approximately 3,000 person years of employment, with a total of 350 people working on site," he said. "So it's a great story at this particular time."

But Mr. Fleming of the NDP said the length of time it took the Liberal government to approve the new roof and the business plan meant that lucrative revenue opportunities from the formerly booming real-estate market were lost.

"There is now an additional risk to the taxpayers because they missed the boat on the best situation available to recover money from the private sector," he said.