Plan for home away from dome unveiled - Vancouver Sun

Nostalgia, end-zone seating and braving outdoor elements all part of the temporary 'lure' for Lions, Whitecaps

BY LYNDON LITTLE

They're going to build it. Now will they come?

The Pacific National Exhibition and the B.C. Pavilion Corporation unveiled plans Tuesday for a 27,500-seat temporary stadium on the grounds of the PNE that will be the home of the B.C. Lions for the 2010 season and part of 2011 and for soccer's Whitecaps during the early portion of their 2011 campaign. The move is necessitated by the planned renovations of BC Place to begin after the closing of the 2010 Olympics.

To be constructed by the Swiss-based company Nussli, the stadium will be located on the site of the old Empire Stadium, which was demolished in 1993 and is now a community playing field. Among the details:

- The cost of the stadium, pegged at $14.4 million, is already included in the $458-million budget PavCo has set aside for the BC Place renovations, which are to include a retractable roof.

- Of the 27,500 seats, approximately 20,000 will be under cover and will be individual bucket-style. The remaining seats, those located at both ends of the stadium, will be open to the elements and will be bench-style.

- The stadium will include a dozen private suites and a press box.

- There will be lighting for night games.

- The current artificial turf from BC Place -- which is scheduled to be replaced as part of the renovation -- will be used at the temporary facility.

- When the stadium is dismantled the site will revert to a community playing field. According to the PNE, which manages the playing field on behalf of the city, there will also be opportunities for community use of the temporary stadium.

"When we were first informed by PavCo it would be necessary to be out of the downtown stadium for all of 2010 I was at first taken aback," admitted Lions' vice-president of business operations George Chayka.

"Then I started thinking about the possibilities. The more I thought about it the more I liked it. It's going to provide a unique opportunity for us to rekindle some of those memories of the old days at Empire Stadium. It's a great tie-in with our past."

Chayka said the club conducted a survey of its season ticket holders and about 90 per cent said they would attend at least one game in a temporary, outdoor facility.

The Lions debuted as a pro football team in the old Western Interprovincial Football Union at Empire Stadium in 1954 and played there until moving to the BC Place dome in 1983. Likewise, the Whitecaps can trace their roots to Empire Stadium, having played the franchise's first game there in 1974 before also leaving for the dome in 1983.

While the Whitecaps plan to use the temporary PNE facility for only the early part of their inaugural Major League Soccer schedule in 2011 -- remaining at Swangard Stadium for this coming season -- both teams believe the nostalgia factor will prove to be a lure for their fans.

"We're very excited about this tremendous opportunity," says Chayka, who plans several retro promotions to play on the Lions' many years at Empire. "I feel once the fans get a chance to see the drawings for the stadium they'll exceed their expectations."

With approximately 20,000 season-ticket holders and a stadium capacity of just 27,500, Chayka foresees the possibility of several sellouts.

There are no plans to add extra seats should the Lions host a playoff game.

"It never hurts to have that sense of urgency about getting a ticket," Chayka says.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi played in the team's first game at Empire Stadium in 1974.

"I personally have a lot of memories associated with the site," he said. "Since news that the temporary stadium would definitely be on the old Empire site I've heard from many fans who have their own memories."

One problem for the Whitecaps is that the old artificial turf from BC Place, which will be used in the new stadium, doesn't meet MLS standards. The team is working on that issue.

Nussli is involved with temporary seating for many of the Vanoc facilities -- to a total of about 45,000 seats. Martin Blackburn, Nussli's branch manager, said most of the seats for the temporary stadium will come from the non-permanent Olympic seating. Construction of the stadium is scheduled to begin on March 15 and take about three months to complete.

The largest project Nussli has been involved with to date is the company's current seven-year contract, which began in 2007, to provide 125,000 temporary seats for the annual Formula One Grand Prix race in Valencia, Spain.

llittle@vancouversun.com

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