Ball still rolling on soccer centre - Delta Optimist


Delta working out lease deal with Whitecaps as John Oliver project continues despite Liberal candidate's loss

By Sandor Gyarmati

A deal between Delta and the Vancouver Whitecaps to use John Oliver Park will have to go through public consultation before anything is approved, assured CAO George Harvie.

Harvie said Delta is closing in on a lease with the professional soccer club to build a world-class training centre in East Delta.

He recently made in-camera presentations on a proposed lease to the mayor's standing committee on finance and to the parks, recreation and culture commission.

Delta's top bureaucrat said if an agreement were reached with the Whitecaps, a public consultation period would follow, likely in August or September.

"It will be an extensive period of public consultation to ensure the public has full accessibility to information and council can receive their comments back," Harvie said.

The Whitecaps and Delta signed a memorandum of agreement months ago but still had to negotiate a lease for the East Delta park.

Although both sides didn't have a final deal struck, that didn't stop Premier Gordon Campbell from making a stop here during the provincial election campaign to announce that, if elected, a Liberal government would pour $17.5 million into the development of a $31.5 million soccer centre at John Oliver, in partnership with the Whitecaps and Delta.

The premier's visit was clearly aimed at giving star Delta South candidate Wally Oppal, who was on hand at the announcement, a boost. Oppal narrowly lost the election to independent Vicki Huntington.

A Whitecaps official told the Optimist as far as the team is aware, the funding is still proceeding because the pledge was contingent on the government being re-elected, not one candidate. A spokesperson at the premier's office confirmed that to be the case.

The much talked about proposal, called the National Soccer Development Centre, has been the subject of negotiations between the soccer club and Delta, which had applied for the funding, for over a year.

While community access and other issues still have to be finalized, what's already known about the proposal is that Delta would provide a 60-year lease to the Whitecaps for a section of the park that would be used exclusively by the soccer club.

The training centre is to have a clubhouse for the national and pro teams, a training facility and seven fields. Two of the fields would be for community uses while the others would be for the Whitecaps' player development programs.

In a related development, Delta council approved the purchase of four privately owned parcels of land adjacent to the northern part of the park for $445,000 earlier this month.

Harvie, noting Delta still requires Agricultural Land Commission approval to subdivide, said the acquisitions are where the Whitecaps facility would be located. If a deal isn't reached with the soccer club, he said, the municipality would have still purchased the properties, converting them for recreational use.

In a presentation to the Tsawwassen Business Association earlier this year, Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi stressed a new national soccer training centre would be an integral part of the Vancouver Whitecaps having a top-notch Major League Soccer franchise.

It was announced earlier this year the Whitecaps would join MLS, North America's top soccer league, for the 2011 season, playing in a refurbished B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.

Lenarduzzi said the key to having a strong product, as well as a healthier league, is teams developing their own players.

© The Delta Optimist 2009