The old Empire Stadium in East Vancouver was torn down in 1993 after playing home to the BC Lions for decades
As many of you know, BC Place stadium (the current home for the BC Lions) will be shut down next year as it undergoes a massive $450 million retrofit. By 2011, the 60,000 seat stadium will have a retractable roof and will be completely refurbished. However, in the interim, both the professional soccer and football teams will need a new home. At a news conference last week it was revealed that the old Empire Stadium location (see photo above) in East Vancouver will become home to the new 27,000 seat temporary stadium. The site is currently used by community sport groups to play soccer/football etc...
Let me first say that I think the temporary stadium location being proposed next year at the PNE location is an excellent choice. About 25 years ago Empire Stadium was home to the BC Lions before they moved to BC Place. On warm sunny nights you couldn't find a more picturesque location to watch a game. On rainy nights...not so much. The old Empire Stadium was torn down in 1993.
Although I am pleased with the location of the temporary stadium, I was more than a bit taken aback at the lack of community consultation and involvement of civic officials in the decision. According to media reports, Aaron Jasper, Chair of the Vancouver Park Board, was completely clueless regarding the decision to build the stadium at Hastings Park. Here is what he told the Georgia Straight:
In terms of the immediacy of it, no, we weren’t aware of it. We literally found out about it at the last minute.
As far as Vancouver Council goes, they don't appear to have been better plugged into the decision making process. This is despite the fact the City of Vancouver actually owns the property and Councillor Raymond Louie is the Chair of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). It would appear that Louie didn't even attend the news conference announcing the decision. Or at least his mugshot never made it on the six o'clock news. That honour was left to Concert Properties executive David Podmore (the guy heading up the BC Place project), PNE CEO Mike McDaniel and Whitecaps rep Bob Lenarduzzi.
It's hard to believe that a building this size won't have transportation and noise impacts on local residents. Therefore, you would assume that something this big would have to go before council prior to any kind of media announcement. It would appear not. As for Mayor Robertson, he's had little to say on the issue and has remained virtually silent since the announcement. Sounds eerily similar to when he was in Mexico last December as Vancouverites were being pummeled by Snowmageddon.
Supporters of the Hastings Park location argue that since this is only a temporary stadium and there used to be one located there about 20 years ago, there is no need for City Hall to undertake a lengthy community consultation. On the other hand, critics cite the lack of community consultation and the fact the stadium location was announced as a fait accompli as indicators City Hall is ignoring their neighhourhood concerns - yet again.
Regardless of which side you support, the rushed manner in which this announcement was made will likely only add fuel to the fire of neighhourhood residents upset about the further commercialization of Hastings Park. In one of its last acts before the Xmas break, Council also rammed through the new Hastings Park Community Plan which will see a number of new buildings constructed in the park. The decision to release that report just days before the holiday break has some residents fuming and plotting out their next move.
Like I said earlier, I am actually a big fan of putting the temporary stadium at Hastings Park and think it will be a big hit with fans. For the first time in over a decade, I'm am actually contemplating getting a couple of seasons tickets. A number of my friends and neighhours are also going to do the same thing. So clearly the decision to move the Lions to the temporary site at Hastings Park will mean more sold out games and a strengthened season ticket holder base.
It will be interesting to see how the local community reacts over the coming months to the addition of a new 27,000 seat stadium to a park they had hoped was going to become a lot greener. While some might openly complain, my suspicion is that the silent majority will be gobbling up season tickets and praying for another warm dry summer in 2010.