Blow up BC place

Then the city can greenlight the waterfront soccer stadium

John Mackie - Vancouver Sun

BC Place in 2000 before there was even more skyline for one of the city's ugliest buildings to block out.

Okay, let's be blunt: BC Place Stadium is a dump. It's a horrible place to watch a sporting event, and an even worse place to see a concert.

Aesthetically it's hideous, ranking with the CBC building for the title of Ugliest Civic Structure in the Lower Mainland. Oh, and it's a perennial money-loser.

So why in the world would the City of Vancouver want to keep it?

Vancouver Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot wants to build a new soccer/football stadium on the Gastown waterfront, with his own money.

That's right, he'd pay for it, and build it on his own land.

The city has made Kerfoot jump through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops with his stadium plan. But now comes news the city may fast-track the rezoning process for some of the parking lots around BC Place.

Once they're rezoned, a developer could sprinkle money on the parking lots and they'd be magically transformed into three condo and/or office towers. The profit from selling off the parking lots would then be used to renovate BC Place and keep it operating for another 30 years.


Why wouldn't you let Kerfoot build his stadium on the waterfront, then take condo king Bob Rennie's advice -- knock down BC Place and sell off the land for redevelopment?

Coun. David Cadman was recently quoted as saying that BC Place "is an absolutely critical facility for Vancouver's economic viability."

On the contrary, BC Place is a civic liability. It's a bad facility that should have never been built, on a prime piece of downtown real estate.

The stadium was built in the early 1980s by Bill Bennett's Social Credit government, with the idea that Vancouver could get a major league baseball franchise. The baseball team never materialized, and the stadium became a white elephant.

Its major tenant is the BC Lions football team, which plays only about a dozen games there each year, a fraction of the 81 games a baseball team would have played.

The Dome was popular with Lions fans for a few years, but the bloom wore off. I have been to Lions games at BC Place where there were about 12,000 people in the stands. Even now when the Lions are happening again, the upper bowl is rarely open, because there is no demand. A great crowd is 30,000 -- in a stadium that holds 60,000.

BC Place was one of the last big indoor stadiums built -- oddly, people seem to prefer going to sports events outdoors. The new rage has been for open-air stadiums with retractable roofs, which are expensive but let fans enjoy the weather when it's nice outside.

There was a period in the late '80s and early '90s when classic rock bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd could sell out BC Place, even though it has truly abysmal sound. Alas, the Floyd hasn't toured in years, and with the Stones nearing their golden years, they don't come here all that often, either.

Bands like U2 or the Police now tend to eschew BC Place for dates at GM Place or the Pacific Coliseum, which are far easier to sell out. Not only is BC Place a bad place to see a concert, it is simply too big to host them.

The Dome has tried to make up for a lack of concerts and sporting events by hosting home shows, car shows and the like. But these events could go to other venues.

Now, let's consider Kerfoot's stadium, which would seat 35,000 if it were to be home to both Vancouver's soccer and football teams. Smaller than BC Place, but with little demand for a 60,000-seat stadium, why do you need one?

No one's going to spend $700 million to bring a National Football League franchise to Vancouver, which is what the owners of Houston's NFL team paid.

The initial idea was to build Kerfoot's stadium over the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks (which Kerfoot purchased and leased back to the CPR.) Apparently one of the city's concerns about the proposal was that sports fans could be endangered by "dangerous goods" that are sometimes stored in boxcars on the train tracks.

What? Dangerous goods are allowed in boxcars on the downtown waterfront? There are probably 100,000 people living in the downtown peninsula, and maybe another 200,000 in a 10-km radius.

Wouldn't the dangerous goods pose a danger to them, too? It would make more sense to ban dangerous goods from the downtown tracks.

Another concern is the impact on Gastown, Vancouver's heritage neighbourhood.

This is ridiculous. The two towers on the Woodward's site (43 and 32 storeys high) will have a far greater impact on Gastown than a stadium built over railway tracks.

No heritage building would get knocked down for the stadium, and the proposed version would affect only the view of one block on Water Street, most of which is now commercial space.

Some building owners might lose waterfront views that would make their buildings extra valuable for condo versions. But the city approved plans for the Fairmount Pacific Estates hotel/condo development, which is going up on the waterfront right in front of Vancouver's art deco masterpiece, the Marine Building.

If you want to see the impact of a sports stadium on a heritage neighbourhood, go down to Seattle. There are two huge new downtown stadiums next to Seattle's oldest neighbourhood, Pioneer Square, and the negative impacts have been minimal.

If anything the impact has been positive -- thousands of people flood into the area and spend money at restaurants, bars and retail stores.

The other great positive of the two new stadiums is that when they were built, Seattle blew up the Kingdome, a concrete monstrosity that used to blight the downtown.

Imagine if the giant egg white of BC Place were erased from the downtown skyline: It would be the greatest civic beautification measure we could take.

Now, let's talk about this dumb idea to build a roof over Robson Square . . .

© The Vancouver Sun 2008