B.C. Place a short-term option
Concerned about being shut out of the dwindling prospects for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, the Vancouver Whitecaps have opened the door a crack to the possibility of playing at a revamped B.C. Place Stadium -- on an interim basis.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said Tuesday the club is still 100 per cent committed to building a soccer-specific, natural grass stadium on the Vancouver waterfront, but would consider B.C. Place as a temporary venue if major renos are announced shortly as expected.
"Our priority is still the waterfront stadium, but given that it's taking as long as it has, we need to have alternatives if the opportunity to move to a higher level is available," said Lenarduzzi.
"It would be a short-term solution, as we're looking at the waterfront stadium being our permanent solution but of course we're mired in that process right now."
The Whitecaps have been fighting their way through red tape and negotiations with local and federal government since owner Greg Kerfoot purchased land on the waterfront adjacent to Gastown in 2005. Talks are moving at a glacial pace with the Port of Vancouver, regarding a land swap agreement on the fourth proposed site for the 15,000-seat stadium.
In the mean time, a major case of stadium envy has gripped Vancouver, as Toronto built 20,000-seat BMO Field on its waterfront -- and became the first Canadian MLS franchise last year -- and Montreal is about to open 13,500-seat Saputo Stadium. The Impact have formally launched their own bid for an MLS franchise, with the team owner Saputo family joining forces with Canadiens owner George Gillette.
The problem the Whitecaps find themselves in is that MLS -- North American's top professional soccer league, which has said it will cap its number of teams at 18 -- is at 14 this year and will add Seattle in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010. In addition to the Montreal bid, St. Louis is also pursuing a franchise. If both were accepted, the 18 spots would be filled.
MLS has said that B.C. Place would be acceptable to the league in the interim, as long as assurances of a more soccer specific stadium were in place.
Seattle will play at Qwest Field, similar in size and surface (FieldTurf) to B.C. Place, but only use the 24,500-seat lower bowl.
"We just want to keep the club's options open," Lenarduzzi said.
© The Vancouver Province 2008