Waterfront Soccer Stadium set to go says Lenarduzzi

Friday, October 14th, 2005

Project will be funded 100 per cent by Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot

Dan Stinson

IAN LINDSAY/VANCOUVER SUN Whitecaps soccer president John Rocha (left) and director of soccer operations Bob Lenarduzzi unveil a north-facing artist’s conception of the proposed stadium Thursday. The site is the area east of Canada Place over the railway yards.

VANCOUVER – All systems are go for construction of a privately-funded downtown waterfront stadium, Vancouver Whitecaps soccer club officials announced Thursday during a well-attended news conference at Granville Square plaza.

Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps’ director of soccer operations, and club president John Rocha said plans for a 15,000-16,000-seat soccer-specific stadium are proceeding, adding that the first order of business is an application to the city of Vancouver for a development permit.

The application process is expected to be lengthy — perhaps as long as two years — making it difficult to predict when the stadium will open, Lenarduzzi said.

“We fully expect the application will be approved, but it’s not possible to say right now exactly when that will happen,” Lenarduzzi said. “We’re working closely with city officials, who have indicated interest in making this project happen. It’s a positive first step and we’re proceeding from there.”

The stadium, which has been named Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium, will be built about seven metres above a seven-hectare parcel of rail lands property east of the Waterfront Station SeaBus terminal. The stadium has the capacity to be expanded to about 30,000 seats with the addition of two upper decks.

The Whitecaps did not announce the costs associated with the new stadium, but they are believed to be about $80 million, including land acquisition costs of $17 million and current construction cost estimates of between $60 and $65 million.

Rocha said the stadium will be “100-per-cent funded” by Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot.

“At this time, Greg Kerfoot is the only investor in the project,” Rocha said. “But we are open to other levels of investment, including various government levels. It’s our hope that other investors will come aboard as we move on with plans to make this very exciting project a reality.”

Kerfoot purchased the property from Fairmont Developments Inc. on July 14.

The media-shy Kerfoot did not attend the news conference. The former president and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based software company Crystal Decisions Corp., Kerfoot has never attended a news conference since becoming the owner of the Whitecaps men’s and women’s teams in November 2002.

Crystal Decisions was sold to rival software company Business Objects for $820 million US in July 2003. The company has been known as Business Objects since the sale.

“Despite Greg’s absence, he continues to be involved with the club on a daily basis,” said Lenarduzzi. “He’s a hands-on owner. Without his resources, enthusiasm and vision, we would not be standing here today making this announcement.”

Rocha said the Whitecaps hope to have construction of the stadium completed before the July 2007 FIFA under-20 men’s World Youth tournament, but added there is no guarantee that the stadium will be ready by that time.

Vancouver is one of six Canadian host cities for the 24-nation, 52-game tournament.

“The ideal time for the stadium to be up and ready is late-June or early-July 2007,” Rocha said. “But it’s not possible to say right now whether that will happen. We still have a long way to go in terms of getting approval for the development permit. That process and other issues could take as long as two years. Right now, I’d say a more realistic date for the opening of the stadium would be 2008 or 2009.”

If the stadium isn’t ready for the FIFA tournament, local games will be played at Burnaby‘s Swangard Stadium, the current venue for both Whitecaps teams. Swangard Stadium has a seating capacity of 5,722 for Whitecaps games, but can be expanded to as many as 13,000 seats.

One of the best features of Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium is that it will have a natural-grass playing surface. Additionally, the grass will be retractable in small square plots from its foundation, meaning that the stadium will be capable of staging other sports events like professional tennis and volleyball.

“The stadium will be a state-of-the-art facility,” said Rocha. “With grass installed, it’s obviously capable of accommodating sports events like soccer and rugby. But when you have the ability to remove the grass, it opens the door to so many other events.”

Victor Montagliani, president of the B.C. Soccer Association, noted that Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium differs from planned new soccer-specific stadiums in Toronto and Montreal because of its grass surface.

“The stadiums in Toronto and Montreal will have artificial turf,” said Montagliani.

“That’s understandable because those areas of Canada have some pretty harsh winter weather. But we’re blessed with mild weather virtually year-round in Vancouver. The Whitecaps have definitely made the right decision with a natural-grass surface.”

Montagliani said he can foresee Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium becoming Canada‘s No. 1 soccer facility.

“Based on what I’ve seen and heard today, this could be Canada‘s best soccer facility,” he said. “We’ve always had the weather in our favour in Vancouver and we’ll soon have a top-notch stadium here as well.”

Thursday’s news conference was not without controversy. A small number of protesters attended and voiced concerns about the impact the stadium would have on Downtown Eastside residents.

Lenarduzzi responded to the protesters by stating: “Greg Kerfoot is building a stadium that will serve the community. If he really wanted to make a profit and have an impact on the Downtown Eastside, he would build some highrise condominiums.”

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© The Vancouver Sun 2005


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