The future of Vancouver's Major League Soccer franchise could be in jeopardy if the financially strapped provincial government bails on a retractable roof project for B.C. Place Stadium.
The provincially owned and operated stadium is the future domicile of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and is slated to undergo a $365-million renovation in phases before and after the 2010 Olympics. The second segment, scheduled to begin next year, is to include a retractable roof being in place by March of 2011, in time for the Whitecaps' debut in MLS.
"We haven't talked to MLS, but [the renovation]is a very important part of our submission," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said. "If it goes sideways, there will be some issues."
Yesterday, B.C.'s Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts warned of construction delays. Kevin Krueger said the project's financing was under review, and could not guarantee that the retractable roof would go ahead.
"You can never say, 'No matter what happens,' " Krueger said when asked about the status of the retractable roof. "The existing roof could be replaced. The retracting roof certainly is preferred by a lot of the people who are engaged in this whole process."
That includes the Whitecaps and the CFL's B.C. Lions.
The retractable roof is seen as key to the Whitecaps' success in MLS, the continent's most prestigious professional soccer circuit, which granted Vancouver an expansion franchise last March. Soccer fans demand open-air venues, and the Whitecaps have said the renovations would make B.C. Place a soccer-friendly environment.
"We need that to happen," Lenarduzzi said.
Lions owner David Braley, meanwhile, has been enormously supportive of renovation plans, even though they threaten to interrupt his home schedule in 2010. The team has been making contingency plans to play in a temporary stadium next season, in case an under-construction B.C. Place is not available for its home opener in July of 2010.
The first phase of the renovation includes upgrades to luxury suites, washrooms and concession areas for the 2010 Olympics.
After the Paralympic Games next March, the 26-year-old facility is scheduled to be fitted with a new roof. The current air-supported roof, which punctured in January of 2007, is to be removed and replaced by a retractable model.
"Hopefully, the roof will go ahead because it will make B.C. Place a world class facility," Lions vice-president of business George Chayka said yesterday. "It would be big for the province, for the city, and for the team."
Krueger said the second phase includes 160 bidders on 40 different components, and that the business plan is being analyzed by the Treasury Board. Contractors have agreed to delay their bids for one month.
The government is facing a growing, multibillion-dollar deficit. Earlier this week, its Throne Speech declared "the cupboard is bare," and hospitals, schools and agencies have been ordered to review their books and search for savings.
Krueger said he expected to know more this week and expressed confidence that the project would forge ahead and be ready for 2011, when B.C. Place is set to stage the 99th Grey Cup game.
"The challenging economic times are very much a part of the picture," the Minister said.
"It's a complicated world we are in right now, this is a very expensive project and we are in very challenging economic times so Treasury Board is analyzing it."
The government announced plans to renovate B.C. Place in May of 2008. The stadium, which is operated by PavCo, a Crown corporation, also plays host to concerts and trade shows.