NDP Leader Adrian Dix has suggested BC Place could be put on the auction block, saying managing stadiums should not be a government priority.
The notion got a quick dismissal from Liberal Leader Christy Clark, who said the NDP had previously criticized the Liberals for selling surplus assets.
But real estate and urban affairs experts said there could be merit in looking at options for the sports facility, which is home to the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps and was recently refurbished at a cost of more than $500-million.
Prospective buyers would likely be as or more interested in the parking lot near the stadium than in BC Place itself, said Tsur Somerville, a professor in real estate finance with the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “If you were to acquire the stadium, that’s where there would be any value,” Prof. Somerville said on Wednesday.
That site was to be the home of a casino-hotel complex that was supposed to help pay for the 2011 stadium renovation, but that plan has been in limbo since the City of Vancouver nixed a casino expansion.
The province would likely not be able to recoup the cost of the renovation through a sale, said Judith Grant Long, an associate professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design who studies stadium costs. She drew a comparison to Toronto, where the former SkyDome changed hands twice before its current owner, Rogers Communications, acquired it in 2005. The facility cost more than $500-million to build.
“The key thing about SkyDome that I think relates here is when they [Ontario] sold it, they didn’t come anywhere near to recovering that debt,” Prof. Long said.
“If they [B.C.] put it up for sale, the price tag is not going to be $500-million. The price tag is going to be whatever the market is willing to pay.”
While emphasizing that she had not studied BC Place, Prof. Long speculated that Rogers – which acquired naming rights to nearby Rogers Place, home to the Vancouver Canucks, in 2010 – could be a prospective buyer.
“Rogers is in this business, knows how to do this business – if they’re thinking they could possibly get a Major League Baseball expansion team to Vancouver, then that makes this a viable private option. Because it’s something they know how to do, provided they get it at the right price – and keeping in mind they got SkyDome for $25-million.”
Mr. Dix said an NDP government would establish an expert panel of business and community leaders to look into the sale of the stadium, currently operated by BC Pavilion Corp. (PavCo), a Crown corporation. PavCo also runs the waterfront Vancouver Convention Centre. While Mr. Dix did not say whether or not the NDP would also consider selling the convention centre, part of the NDP’s plan would be to look into the long-term viability of PavCo, which is $1.2-billion in debt.
“When an operation draws tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies every year, and has left taxpayers with a mountain of debt, I believe we have to take a close look at whether that’s a business we should be in,” Mr. Dix said.
Any revenue from the sale of BC Place, he added, would be used to pay down PavCo’s debt.
At a news conference to respond to the NDP platform, Liberal MLA Mike de Jong said his ministry commissioned a 2011 review on the sale of government assets, including BC Place, but concluded the timing was not right “for reasons including a return to taxpayers.”
With reports from Andrea Woo and Ian Bailey
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