Monday, July 30, 2007

A Community Stadium for All

Much of what's been written about the Whitecaps Stadium over the last two years has focused on the benefits the stadium will bring for Canadian soccer. Of course, our city's role in international, professional, women's and amateur soccer stands to gain immensely once it's built. But, what often gets lost in all the excitement is that the Whitecaps are trying to give Vancouver a much-needed outdoor community stadium. It was a need established by Mayor Larry Campbell in 2004 when he asked the Whitecaps if they were interested in building it.

A community stadium is one of a city's most basic institutions. And, in the fine tradition of other private sector gifts to Vancouver such as the Lions Gate Bridge and the Carnegie Centre, the Whitecaps are taking the initiative to build this gift to the city. Beyond soccer, this stadium will be used by thousands of citizens in many different ways.

If we look at it purely from a sporting perspective, Vancouver can finally start hosting many of the world class & amateur events that currently go to other major cities. For a start, we already know that the stadium will serve Canada's rugby community, potentially as our national stadium. The tennis community is eager to bring world-class tournaments to Vancouver, such as the Davis Cup. The Whitecaps have also said that the stadium will be made available for amateur sporting events as well. This will be the type of sporting shrine that will inspire and reward athletes for their thousands of hours of hard work and sacrifice for their craft.

But the delays over the last two years have already taken a toll. Vancouver has already missed out on it's share of the $166 million windfall from the FIFA U-20 World Cup. In 2009, the World Police & Fire Games, one the largest amateur events on the planet, will be forced out to the suburbs and beyond, once again denying Vancouver the many tourism and economic spinoffs the Whitecaps Stadium could provide. Every day we go without the stadium, our athletes, our citizens, our small local businesses miss out on opportunities such as these.

Cultural events will also play a large role in the stadium. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra already wants to make the Whitecaps Stadium it's summer home. The Waterfront Stadium will also be an exciting, dynamic venue for downtown open-air concerts. As we know, VANOC was interested in utilizing the stadium for the cultural components of 2010, but delays by the city ensured that the stadium would probably not be built in time for the winter games. As a result, it's likely that fewer people will have the chance to enjoy cultural events during the Olympics. Once again, another huge loss for the citizens of Vancouver.

But most importantly, the Whitecaps plan to open the stadium as a permanent home to Vancouver's many multicultural festivals and events. They've already announced that they will donate the use of the Stadium to the City of Vancouver every year to celebrate the city's birthday. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless. Many of our downtown festivals that currently close down streets and bring massive policing costs, could be brought down to the waterfront, where all Vancouverites can celebrate in the footprint of our mountains. The stadium will make these events easier and less expensive for festival organizers to put together.

Vancouver is also missing out on the large scale public benefits outside of the stadium. When the stadium is built, the City will have the ability to fulfill its goal of building a better transit hub to handle the ever-growing number of suburban commuters to downtown. The stadium also brings an opportunity to finally extend the seawall from Coal Harbour to the Carrall Street Greenway, giving the first public access to a piece of Port Corporation land that's been off-limits to citizens for decades. Pedestrians and cyclists would finally have a continuous loop to travel from Stanley Park to False Creek to English Bay. Without the stadium, this part of the waterfront could be closed off for many generations to come.

We, as a city, have to stop thinking small. For a cosmopolitan city like ours to thrive, our downtown core has to be open, inclusive and welcoming to all people. We also have to start building institutions that appeal to people of all cultures and backgrounds. The Whitecaps' spectacular Waterfront Stadium, combined with the global appeal of the beautiful game, promises to be one of the first of these for Vancouver. Please take a moment to tell City Hall to get off the sidelines and make it happen. You can e-mail them now at

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