Club president Bob Lenarduzzi says city had no strategy to develop Greg Kerfoot-owned rail yard land in 2005
VANCOUVER - Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi says team owner Greg Kerfoot had no plans for condos or any commercial development when he purchased land on the waterfront for his proposed new soccer stadium.
The former Vancouver soccer star said a front-page story in Wednesday's Vancouver Sun headlined "Stadium plan includes condos" conveyed the impression that Kerfoot's plan to build a $90-million stadium was as much a real estate play as it was an investment in professional soccer.
"If I read that headline, I'm thinking that there is something sinister taking place here," Lenarduzzi told The Vancouver Sun's editorial board Wednesday.
"That's bulls---. That's not the case."
The article, by Sun columnist Miro Cernetig, said Kerfoot plans to build a "phalanx of towers" around the new stadium on Burrard Inlet.
But Lenarduzzi said Kerfoot has no specific plans to build condo towers, and that when the reclusive billionaire purchased the rail yard land between Gastown and Vancouver Harbour in 2005 for $22 million, the City of Vancouver had no strategy to bring development to the area.
The likelihood that there would be development on the waterfront land became apparent only in 2007 when the city initiated a planning program to create an urban design and transportation plan for the Central Waterfront Hub area around Waterfront Station.
A city report on the Hub plan talks about extending the downtown business district to the water to provide new development such as offices, shops, restaurants, hotels and public facilities.
The possibility that Kerfoot could sell land around the stadium for commercial development came as a surprise to him and the Whitecaps, said Lenarduzzi.
"We had no idea that there were any plans to develop when we bought."
Whitecaps chief operating officer Rachel Lewis said the city has "put forward plans to expand the city limits and that will involve all kinds of property owners, not just the Whitecaps."
Lewis said the eventual mix of development is unclear, adding that the development costs will be high because "you're building on a railway."
The Whitecaps considered the waterfront site only after the initial choice of a stadium site at Main and Terminal was rejected by the city, she added, because of a mistaken expectation that it would be needed for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But Lenarduzzi acknowledged that Kerfoot will probably sell some of the waterfront land for commercial development.
"We haven't gone into any detail on that side of it. But having said that, if the Hub study confirms that in the end they [the city] are going to develop that area, somebody is going to develop it."
Lenarduzzi said that Kerfoot is "not using the stadium for the ability to develop."
"And if you were into it to develop, you'd forget about the stadium and have the opportunity to make much more money."
But Kerfoot's priority is the stadium, Lenarduzzi added.
"The real estate aspects of it -- unlike what your paper suggests this morning -- have not been the driving force. And if we'd had the approval at Main and Terminal, we'd have a stadium there."
Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps bought the whole stretch of railway land from Waterfront Station to Main Street because Canadian Pacific wouldn't break it up into parcels.
The Whitecaps have been given conditional approval by the city to proceed with the 15,000-seat stadium project.
But the stadium is on hold until the Whitecaps can resolve a land dispute with the Vancouver Port Authority.
Kerfoot owns 10.5 hectares of rail yard behind Water Street, but he also needs about 1.5 hectares of waterfront owned by the Port Authority.
The Port Authority wants the rail yard to guarantee rail access to the port. Port officials say the land Kerfoot is offering in trade -- roughly the eastern half of the rail yard -- is worth $30 million less than the port's waterfront parcel to the north.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008