Campbell to be congratulated for B.C. Place decision - The Province


BY KENT GILCHRIST

When the decision was made to construct B.C. Place Stadium in the early 1980s at the then-outrageous-sounding cost of $126 million or so, there was lots of bellyaching.

If memory serves, it was louder than the hue and cry over Friday's provincial government reconfirmation for the retractable-roof renovation even though the price has increased to $458 million from the original $365 million.

Premier Gordon Campbell is to be congratulated for having the vision and guts for staying the course in the face of rising costs in a recessionary economy.

Even though history pointed the way — since what has happened after the decision to build the new stadium downtown on the False Creek site in 1981 sparked a revitalization and ensured the vitality of downtown Vancouver — Campbell's affirmative action will be met by braying naysayers. Of course, it's better for those of us who make their living reporting on sports, too.

We may never know how close a call it was to not going ahead with the retractable roof but for the Whitecaps, who will be moving up to Major League Soccer, it was extremely important. It also inflates the value of the B.C. Lions, who will play host to the Grey Cup in 2011. Both of those things are good for the overall economy of the city and the province.

But let's look at some of the "old" B.C. Place history. It played host to the opening and closing of Expo 86 and it will be the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of next year's Winter Olympics. Between those two international events (which Vancouver might not have gotten if it hadn't had the 60,000-seat B.C. Place to offer) seven Grey Cup games have been played there. An Aussie Rules Football game ('87) and an NFL preseason contest ('98) and the North American Soccer League Whitecaps called it home, too.

In it's 26 years, it has averaged 200 event days per year. It has been a Porsche of economic engines. It's difficult to know its exact influence on what has transpired since Vancouver Mayor Jack Volrich promised the NASL champion Whitecaps a new stadium after their 1979 championship win.

However, having B.C. Place Stadium on one side of the Georgia St. viaduct made the other side a reasonable spot for the new state of the art GM Place when then Vancouver Canucks owner Arthur Griffiths decided he needed to move out of the Pacific Coliseum and into a new rink if he was going to get an NBA expansion team in 1995.

There will be the argument that neither the Lions nor Whitecaps fill B.C. Place these days, which is mostly true.

But they do for CFL playoffs and the Grey Cup games. Using the MLS Seattle Sounders as an example, they attracted 68,000 for both Chealsea and Barcelona in Qwest Field which is configured for 30,000 for MLS games.

"Having a retractable roof was critical for us," said Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi. "We'll need all of [those seats] when we bring in Man U. or some team like that."

And with the Nutrilite Championship games and league playoff games, the Whitecaps will have 25 home dates.

Lions vice president of business operations George Chayka insists it's important for the community as a whole to have a state of the art stadium that the renovations will make B.C. Place — as well as adding about 40 years to the life of the stadium.

That's pretty decent value.

hkgilchrist@yahoo.com

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