After months of controversy surrounding the future of the B.C. Place retractable roof project, it sounds like progress is actually being made towards a solution that could turn out very well for the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions. Matthew Sekeres of The Globe and Mail reported this morning that the project will be going ahead. That's according to "sources familiar with the situation", which aren't always the most reliable, but in a case like this, it's awfully tough to get anyone on the record. Here's the key quote from one of Sekeres' sources:
"But a source familiar with recent discussions about the provincially operated stadium said the teams have little to worry about, and that an announcement is expected later this month.
“They're hoping to get it resolved in the next 10 days,” the source said. “I think it's a positive resolution [for the sports franchises].”
That isn't overly emphatic, but it's far better than any news we've heard on the stadium front in a long time. Further buttressing the case is information that both B.C. Lions owner David Braley and Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini have expressed interest in partnering with the province on the project. The big issue with the B.C. provincial government these days is their unexpectedly large deficit and the drastic measures they've imposed to try and remedy it. Some of the issues I've covered at my day job recently perhaps touch on this, including changes in autism funding and cuts to domestic violence programs (which were later revoked after a public outcry).The larger context is that the government is strapped for cash, which makes finding $360 million for a stadium roof difficult regardless of how important it is to the city and the province. However, they do have significant other assets that could be traded to Braley or Aquilini in return for funding the construction, including a potential ownership or management stake in B.C. Place or the right to develop land around the stadium. The latter might particularly motivate Aquilini, as his Canucks play next door at General Motors Place, giving him plenty of opportunities to take advantage of land development in the area.
This could be quite a benefit for the Lions, even if they have to move to a temporary facility while the roof is under construction. B.C. Place is a decent stadium for their needs at the moment, but it's not a great one. Particularly in mid-summer, it often gets hot and stuffy in there; a retractable roof would be a perfect solution. The other benefit is this would allow for a centrally-hung scoreboard (according to the concept drawings that have been released) similar to the one in Cowboys Stadium (but not as large, and hopefully hung higher up); one of the issues at Lions' games is that there are several sections where it becomes very difficult to see the scoreboard and the video replays, often crucial to the fan experience in a sport like football where it's difficult if not impossible to follow everything at once. The current B.C. Place would probably suit the Lions for a few years, but a renovated stadium along these lines would be a great facility for them for at least a decade.
Getting this project done is even more crucial for the Whitecaps, though, thanks to their MLS hopes. With waterfront soccer-specific stadium talks still stalled, this is really their only option. Fortunately, it could be a pretty good one. Given the ongoing turmoil in USL-1, which seems likely to affect Vancouver, MLS is becoming more attractive and more important to their future. To get there, they need a larger stadium, and the only suitable one at the moment is B.C. Place.
[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]