Soccer centre remains in limbo - The Delta Optimist


By Sandor Gyarmati

Almost five months after Premier Gordon Campbell made an election campaign stop here with an enthusiastic promise of big dollars to help build the soccer facility, in a partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps, uncertainty over whether that money will now be delivered, as well as the lack of a lease with Delta, has left the much-hyped proposal in a holding pattern.

The premier pledged that if his government were re-elected it would contribute an eye-popping $17.5 million toward what's been called the National Soccer Development Centre, a $31-million state-of-the-art facility in East Delta.

Since then, the situation in the province has changed, starting with the Liberal government's throne speech that warned of dramatic fiscal restraint, followed by the introduction of a provincial budget that projects continued deficits.

At around the same time, the plan to spend millions to put a retractable roof on BC Place stadium was put on hold, while funding was also scaled back or eliminated entirely to many community groups.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport recently reiterated what had been stated earlier this month, that the ministry didn't have information on the status of the funding and the proposal was still "under discussion." It was the same answer at the Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market, which is also handling the file.

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi told the Optimist last week he hasn't heard of any change in plans from the government and the soccer team is proceeding as if the funding will be delivered.

"We're still assuming the funding is in place. Other than details of the funding, we haven't had any discussion that the funding wouldn't be available," he said.

The money could end up being a moot point if the Whitecaps and the municipality can't agree on a lease for John Oliver Park.

CAO George Harvie said last week the club was given an extension until mid-October to respond to a proposed lease arrangement.

"As far as the park, they are evaluating the site and what I can tell you is that it's a constrained site insofar as how much we're willing to give up for their space that would be leased to them," said Harvie.

"They're looking at a study right now insofar as will that meet their needs and future needs. I'm committed to have a report for council by the end of October."

Lenarduzzi said, "We need to make a decision. Delta has on offer on the table for us based on the discussions that have been going on over the last two years and what we need to do is make a decision if we can move forward based on that offer that's on the table."

Last year the municipality signed a memorandum of understanding with the Whitecaps that would see Delta pay for road improvements to the park. Delta would also provide a 60-year lease to the Whitecaps for the section of the site that would be used exclusively by the soccer club.

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

The municipality would also use money provided by the soccer club to buy out and terminate the existing agreement with the Ex-Britannia Rugby Association, the group that signed a deal a decade ago to use John Oliver Park.

A director with the rugby club, who asked his name not be published, told the Optimist the buy out falls far short of what the group had invested at the park.

The club originally signed a deal to develop fields and redevelop the historic John Oliver barn, but turning the barn into a community facility never happened when it was found to be much more costly than anticipated.

© The Delta Optimist 2009