A warm breeze has blown in for sport fans in B.C. as provincial officials set an early date for the re-opening of BC Place Stadium, crediting the fall's unexpectedly mild weather for the decision.
BC Place will be ready for BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps games by Sept. 30, 2011, BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) said on Monday.
"I am very pleased where we're at," said PavCo chairman David Podmore. "We're on budget and, of course, we're on schedule, and we're very pleased that we're able to confirm the opening date."
This date seemed uncertain only months ago. PavCo's discussions last year indicated that renovations would be completed on Nov. 1, 2011. The provincial crown corporation also talked last May about opening the stadium in the summer of 2011 as construction work wrapped up, but later abandoned this plan.
Workers were able to speed up construction because the high winds expected in the fall didn't materialize.
"We were fortunate this year. We didn't have many days of really extreme wind, which would have shut down the operation of lifting the steel," Mr. Podmore said.
High winds are expected in March, however, and Mr. Padmore said construction will be halted if the winds would compromise worker safety.
Workers need to install cables, steel arches, the retractable roof and video scoreboards to complete the $563-million renovations.
The BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps played their 2010 seasons at Empire Field, and had been waiting for a completion date to finalize their 2011 schedules.
PavCo, Lions and Whitecaps stakeholders met in a lawyer's office three weeks ago for a coin-toss to pick the team that will hold the opening event at BC Place, but they are keeping the results secret until the Canadian Football League and Major League Soccer release their game schedules. CFL expects to finalize its schedules as early as this week.
The Lions are planning special events for their first game at the renovated stadium.
"Going back to BC Place is a major date and we will treat it specially and have special things done for our fans," said Jamie Cartmell, BC Lions director of communications.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said the soccer team will put its own stamp on its inaugural game.
"Whatever we plan for the first game, I can tell you that there will be a distinct difference between our events and the Lions' events," he said. "The roof will give a very unique soccer atmosphere. We're very excited about it."
But some soccer fans are not sharing the enthusiasm for the team's new venue. Arne Salvesen has been a Whitecaps fan since 1979 and said it would be difficult to recreate the intimate atmosphere of Empire Field in the bigger BC Place.
"Put [the Whitecaps]in a nice stadium, sure," Mr. Salvesen said. "But it's really about the team and the fans, not about the shiny stadium."