Vancouver joins Montreal, Toronto in announcing new stadium plans
By RON SUDLOW
VANCOUVER (CP) - The Vancouver Whitecaps unveiled plans Thursday for a 15,000-seat stadium on the waterfront, meaning there could be as many as three soccer-specific stadiums in Canada in the next few years.
The proposed venue is a few kilometres west of now-demolished Empire Stadium where Bob Lenarduzzi, Vancouver's director of soccer operations, played before 28,000 fans as a defender for the Whitecaps when they won the 1979 North American Soccer League title. Today's Whitecaps currently play in 5,700-seat Swangard Stadium in suburban Burnaby where they had six sellouts last season and drew 6,800 for a match against Sunderland of the English Premier League.
"I think it's a fantastic place to have a stadium," Whitecap striker Jason Jordan, the USL's scoring champion and MVP, said of the new venue.
"People will come just to be in the stadium but once they watch some of the games they'll be impressed with the soccer, they'll enjoy it."
The Montreal Impact, who like the Whitecaps play in the second-tier USL, have announced plans to occupy a new 15,000-seat stadium by 2007.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is seeking a Major League Soccer franchise for Toronto but has been given an Oct. 31 deadline by the league for stadium approval.
A proposed 20,000-seat Toronto stadium is expected to go before city council later this month.
Like Toronto, the Vancouver stadium plan includes expansion to 30,000. The first phase is expected to cost $60 million to $65 million.
The Vancouver stadium will be built over the Canadian Pacific rail yard near the Canada Place waterfront convention centre with its distinctive decorative sails.
Fans will look through the north end of the horseshoe-shaped facility at Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains that rise sharply above the harbour.
"There will be an intimate atmosphere," Lenarduzzi told a news conference as tugboats whistled and sea planes buzzed overhead. "It will have a fan-friendly feel and look to the game."
The land has already been purchased by Greg Kerfoot, the Whitecaps' media-shy owner who made a fortune in computer software.
Whitecaps president John Rocha said while the club wants to occupy the stadium as soon as possible, city officials say a development permit is not likely until 2007 and the facility won't open until the fall of 2009.
"We have desires to see that earlier but that's our stance now, we'd like it as soon as possible," Rocha said.
Lenarduzzi said the natural grass field will give Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium an advantage over the artificial turf at the Montreal and Toronto venues in attracting national team games.
The field sod will be stored on pallets so it can be removed for other events like concerts and trade shows, much like Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL Houston Texans.
The facility has also been proposed to Rugby Canada as a national team home.
In addition to 30 dates for the men's and women's Whitecaps teams, the stadium is also being proposed as a summer home for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, corporate events and trade shows along with such sports as beach volleyball and tennis.
Another possibility is a cultural venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
It will be served by two SkyTrain rapid transit lines, the SeaBus from North Vancouver and a commuter train. There are 30,000 parking stalls within walking distance and some parking planned underneath the facility.
The Whitecaps say they want their new stadium to foster the growth of Canadian soccer.
"Our vision is to build the sport and while we're building the sport we hope to build our fan base as well," Lenarduzzi said in an interview. "It's not something we need to get to overnight."
Canadian soccer is too fragmented among professional clubs, the Canadian Soccer Association, national teams and provincial organizations, said Lenarduzzi who played for the 1986 national team when it became the only Canadian side to qualify for the World Cup tournament.
"We've been fragmented for so long," said Lenarduzzi, also a former national team coach. "I've been through the whole process as a player, coach and an administrator.
"As long as we stay fragmented, we won't have much of a chance. I believe Greg Kerfoot's vision to bring all the stakeholders together will make a professional soccer franchise in this market viable and in markets like Montreal and Toronto."
Lenarduzzi said while the Whitecaps would like to eventually play in the MLS, it's too early for that move.
"Our objective is to be playing in the best league in North America when we're ready and we feel right now MLS in Canada is premature. We feel we've started a co-ordinated approach (for soccer growth) but we're not ready to go MLS."
Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps will also follow the Toronto model and seek financing from city, provincial and federal governments.
"We haven't even talked to any levels of government at this point in terms of the funding side of it. All we're suggesting is if it's being done elsewhere, we'd like the opportunity for equitable contributions."
A quick look at the plans for the Vancouver Whitecaps new stadium:
Location: Built over rail yard on downtown Vancouver waterfront.
Capacity: 15,000 initially, engineered to expand to 30,000.
Cost: First phase of 15,000 seats estimated at between $60 million and $65 million.
Pitch: Natural grass stored on pallets over concrete base.
Nearby: 8,000 hotel rooms, 30,000 parking spaces within walking distance, 80,000 downtown residents.
Construction: Development permit issued 2007, completion 2009.
Access: SkyTrain rapid transit, commuter train, SeaBus from North Vancouver, city buses.
Events: Whitecaps men's and women's soccer plus national team games, rugby, tennis, beach volleyball, concerts, trade shows, conventions.