By Iain MacIntyre
Sen. Larry Campbell is willing to wade into Vancouver's waterfront soccer stadium standoff, which is great news on two levels.
If Campbell's political and mediation skills fail to break the bitter impasse between the Vancouver Port Authority and Vancouver Whitecaps, his background as a coroner will qualify him for the post-mortem on what would be one of the most embarrassing development collapses in the city's history.
Five years after Campbell, then Vancouver's mayor, first encouraged Kerfoot to build a downtown stadium, a shovel has yet to be sunk into the ground, although there should be a few people hit over the head with one.
For perspective, consider that in about half this time Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment proposed, built and opened BMO Field in Toronto, and is now in its second season of Major League Soccer. And it was all done with money donated by three levels of government, which means, yes, you helped pay for Toronto's stadium while the guy in Vancouver isn't getting anywhere trying to build one on his own dime.
Given conditional approval two years ago by the City of Vancouver to proceed with their 15,000-seat project on Burrard Inlet, the Whitecaps have moved their stadium location three times and are in a stalemate with the Port Authority over land negotiations.
Kerfoot owns 10.5 hectares of railyard behind Water Street, purchased for $22 million in 2005. But he needs about 1.5 hectares of waterfront owned by the Port Authority.
The Port Authority badly wants the railyard, believing it's the only way to forever guarantee rail access to their port despite a right-of-way agreement between Kerfoot and Canadian Pacific that runs in perpetuity.
So the Port has the land Kerfoot needs, Kerfoot has the land the Port wants.
No wonder the sides can't get a deal done. It makes too much sense.
Negotiations have been going on for more than a year.
Enter the senator.
"Maybe it takes someone to sit down and say: 'Okay, boys and girls, is this going to happen?' " Campbell said Monday afternoon. "I don't know if anyone would consider me an honest broker, but I've taken mediation.
"From a politician's point of view, this [project] is a win-win."
"There are lots of roadblocks to get through, but that's what life is about. Obviously, I'm concerned about [losing the stadium]. I just don't look at this as a stadium but as a huge opportunity for that area. It's a place for people to work, a place to get jobs. And so close to the convention centre. It would be a landmark, no question."
The entrenchment of the sides became obvious when Port Authority planning director Patrick McLaughlin and chief financial officer Tom Winkler met with The Vancouver Sun's editorial board earlier Monday to explain their hardline position.
McLaughlin, who angered the Whitecaps and appeared to mislead the public last week by claiming Kerfoot was offering only a dollar for the Port property, said the land Kerfoot is offering in trade -- roughly the eastern half of the railyard -- is worth $30 million less than Port's waterfront parcel to the north.
But McLaughlin also conceded that federal laws do not allow the Port to sell its land to the highest bidder, which makes dubious the valuation of its land based on unencumbered worth to developers. The Port Authority is permitted to swap land, but it flatly rejects what Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi says is an offer of three square metres for each metre of Port property.
"The rail lands are essential to us," McLaughlin said. "Before we even get to the matter of value, if we can't get resolution on the rail lands, the price is irrelevant. If we wind up being able to control half the railyard, we may as well as get rid of the whole thing."
"To me, it's an illogical argument that they're making," Lenarduzzi countered afterward. "The railyard is not going anywhere. But if it meant that much to them before, why didn't they buy it? There's an easement [for rail use] that will be there forever. Nothing is going to happen to that railyard. Nothing is going to happen to those tracks."
Kerfoot wants to build on platforms above the tracks. The project will almost certainly include retail and residential development as well as his stadium, and Port officials acknowledge that if Kerfoot doesn't develop the rail lands, someone else will.
So this isn't an issue of preserving the land as it is. Maybe there will be a soccer stadium and three residential towers. Or maybe there will be six residential towers and no stadium. Either way, stuff is going to be built. Eventually.
The Port has no objections to Kerfoot building above the tracks, as long as they own them. Kerfoot, however, won't give up ownership of the more desirable west end of the train yard.
"We just feel what we've offered is fair ... by offering them three-to-one, 30,000 square metres to 10,000," Lenarduzzi said. "How can they attribute that value to [their land]? That's the kind of frustrating thing that's difficult to negotiate."
The pricetag for the taxpayer-subsidized trade and convention centre, a few hundred metres west of the stadium site, is pushing a billion dollars. A new roof for BC Place Stadium, sprinkled in magic dust by the 2010 Olympics, will be rushed through at a cost to us of $100 to $200 million.
Is it not in the public's interest to have a privately funded outdoor stadium that, unlike the convention centre, people in Metro Vancouver will actually be able to use and enjoy?
"We're not in the public-interest business," McLaughlin said. "We're in the business of providing service to Canadian trade, not providing stadiums. We're not the least bit interested in stadiums."
Winkler added: "Personally, I think we're doing some goodwill for the City of Vancouver just by considering this."
Please hurry Mr. Campbell or the next site for Kerfoot's stadium will be in Portland.
"I'm going to talk to Bob and I know the Port people," Campbell said. "It would be a shame if we can't come to some sort of deal. I don't believe in roadblocks. Either you look at them and find a way of addressing them, or you say 'I'm outta here.' "
That's the worry, and ever-increasing likelihood.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008