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Lions, 'Caps play B.C. Place waiting game

They came together Wednesday to announce a beer partnership with B.C. Place Stadium, but the CFL's B.C. Lions and Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps FC have recently gathered over bigger stakes.

Just before Christmas, they met in a downtown Vancouver law office to flip a coin and determine the side that would host the opening event at the retractable-roof facility, which is undergoing a $563-million renovation and expected to debut in late-September.

Neither team was spilling the beans, but both have their prospective 2011 schedules in hand, and Lions president Dennis Skulsky said the winner would be revealed in the next month.

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But the flip may not matter.

The only confirmed events for the new facility are the Vanier Cup, the Canadian university football championship game on Nov. 25, and the 99th Grey Cup game on Nov. 27.

The stadium refitting has churned on since the end of the Paralympics in March, an inescapable monstrosity of construction, occasionally illuminated by floodlights on weekend evenings so that work can continue. Concurrently, B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), the provincial crown corporation which operates the facility, has been reluctant to pinpoint an opening date because of the complexity of construction.

Stadium general manager Howard Crosley reiterated the "early fall" mantra Wednesday, but minutes from an August of 2010 meeting of B.C. Place's construction committee list Nov. 1 as the date for "substantial completion."

"Our general contractor [PCL Westcoast Constructor Inc.]won't make a commitment," Crosley said when pressed for a date.

For the Whitecaps, construction delays could mean that they do not play a single game at the stadium in 2011. The team begins its inaugural MLS season in 50 days, and would not host a league game beyond Oct. 23 unless it qualifies for the playoffs.

"I can assure you that we're planning to be in there this season," said Whitecaps chief executive officer Paul Barber, who added that he has not had "substantial completion" defined to him by PavCo.

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Barber said MLS scheduling protocol stipulates that teams finish with home and away matches for fairness reasons, but that the club has requested a home date for the final weekend, as well as some opportunities to host major fixtures for a prospective first game at B.C. Place. But Barber added that the 'Caps may have to accept some compromises because of stadium availability or the MLS schedule maker.

"We're asking for a lot, to be honest," he said.

A Whitecaps spokesman said the club has agreed with PavCo on lease terms, but would not reveal whether they are binding. Skulsky said the Lions would be paying more rent at B.C. Place, but said a lease agreement has not been finalized.

The Lions president said he expects the CFL schedule to be released next week, and that the Lions could play between three and five home games at the new B.C. Place. He conceded that summer football will be played at Empire Field, a temporary facility with roughly 27,000 seats.

The Whitecaps will also use Empire Field, beginning on March 19, when they host Toronto FC in their MLS debut.

At one point earlier this winter, the Lions were considering back-loading their home games, so they could reap the revenue streams of dates at the 54,000-seat B.C. Place.

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Skulsky said the team was likely to begin on the road, but did not request a back-loaded schedule because of the uncertainty surrounding construction.

The CFL's 2011 regular season concludes on Nov. 6, or just five days after the date of "substantial completion."

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