VANCOUVER — They’re going to build it. Now will they come?
The Pacific National Exhibition and the B.C. Pavilion Corporation unveiled plans Tuesday for a 27,500-seat temporary stadium on the grounds of the PNE that will be the home of the B.C. Lions for the 2010 Canadian Football League season and part of 2011. The Vancouver Whitecaps will play there during the early portion of the 2011 Major League Soccer season, the team’s first in the league.
The move is necessitated by the planned renovations of BC Place to begin after the closing of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in late February.
The stadium, to be built by the Swiss-based company Nussli, will be erected on the site of the old Empire Stadium, which was demolished in 1993 and is currently a community playing field.
Among the details:
• The cost of the stadium, pegged at $14.4 million, is already included in the $458-million budget PavCo has set aside for the BC Place renovations, which are to include a retractable roof.
• Of the 27,500 seats, about 20,000 will be under cover and will be individual bucket-style. The remaining seats, those at both ends of the stadium, will be open to the elements and will be bench-style.
• The stadium will include a dozen private suites and a press box.
• There will be lighting for night games.
• The current artificial turf from BC Place – which is scheduled to be replaced as part of the renovation – will be used at the temporary facility.
• When the stadium is dismantled, the site will revert to a community playing field. According to the PNE, which manages the playing field on behalf of the city, there will also be opportunities for community use of the temporary stadium.
Lions vice-president of business operations George Chayka said he was initially “taken aback” at the thought of playing the 2010 season at a temporary site, but his thoughts quickly changed.
“I started thinking about the possibilities,” he said. “The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It’s going to provide a unique opportunity for us to rekindle some of those memories of the old days at Empire Stadium. It’s a great tie-in with our past.”
Chayka said the club conducted a survey of its season ticket holders and about 90 per cent said they would attend at least one game in a temporary outdoor facility.
“We’re very excited about this tremendous opportunity,” said Chayka, who plans several retro-themed promotions to play on the Lions’ many years at Empire.
“I feel once the fans get a chance to see the drawings for the stadium they’ll exceed their expectations.”
With about 20,000 season-ticket holders and a stadium capacity of just 27,500, Chayka foresees the possibility of several sellouts. There are no plans to add extra seats should the Lions host a playoff game.
“It never hurts to have that sense of urgency about getting a ticket,” Chayka says.
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The Lions debuted as a pro football team in the old Western Interprovincial Football Union at Empire Stadium in 1954 and played there until moving to the BC Place dome in 1983.
Likewise, the Whitecaps can trace their roots to Empire Stadium, having played the franchise’s first game there in 1974 before also leaving for the dome in 1983.
Like the Lions, the Whitecaps believe the nostalgia factor will prove to be a lure for their fans.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi played in the team’s first game at Empire Stadium in 1974.
“Personally have a lot of memories associated with the site,” he said. “Since news that the temporary stadium would definitely be on the old Empire site I’ve heard from many fans who have their own memories.”
One problem for the Whitecaps is that the old artificial turf from BC Place, which will be used in the new stadium, doesn’t meet MLS standards. The team is working on that issue.