Monday, May 19, 2008

An Open Letter to City Council on BC Place Announcement

Dear Mayor Sullivan and Councillors,

I'm writing on behalf of Friends of Soccer to make you aware of our reaction to last week's announcement regarding the retrofit of BC Place and the Vancouver Whitecaps decision to pursue a lease there. While we are relieved that this last ditch effort may have saved the Whitecaps' hopes of bringing Major League Soccer to Vancouver, we strongly feel that this is not a suitable long term solution and that Vancouver's stadium situation has not been resolved. We believe the Whitecaps were forced into a deal with BC Place mostly due to political inaction and an epic failure of public policy at the local and federal level.

While BC Place is a valuable asset to the city, Vancouver still needs a smaller scale community stadium in its downtown core. The BC Place announcement does nothing to assist amateur sport or rugby. It does nothing to assist the community groups and festival organizers who now have to incur the costs and inconvenience of closing down streets to hold their events. It limits the soccer community to hosting only large scale events that can attract 30,000 or more spectators. It will not open up our downtown waterfront, or provide a magnet for citizens to revitalize Gastown. These are just some of the benefits the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium can provide.

When I speak with soccer fans from across the continent, they are all very aware of our stadium predicament and they are aghast that Vancouver has not done more to accommodate a privately funded stadium for the Whitecaps. Throughout North America, local governments make tremendous efforts to attract and retain professional sports teams. Soccer has been no different in this case.

In Philadelphia, state and local governments have teamed up with their port authority to finance and build a soccer specific stadium on waterfront lands. In St.Louis, the local government has pre-approved financing and zoning of a soccer specific stadium in place for any owner who wants to bring a MLS team there. In Montreal, local officials helped the Montreal Impact find an Olympic Park location for their stadium, and the province is one of the team's sponsors. In Toronto, the city partially financed the stadium, and have lined University Avenue streetlights with Toronto FC banners. All of these governments don't regard their stadiums and teams as solely private for-profit enterprises. They see them as community builders and contributors to the quality of daily life in their city. They generate economic activity and are a source of pride for their citizens.

While Council's verbal support of the project is helpful, what the process is missing is City Council's active involvement with the Port Authority and the federal government to help the Whitecaps clear these hurdles. What has frustrated citizens most about the process is that we believe governments in other cities would have been involved by now, and we would not be looking at 2016 as a tentative date for a new stadium.

The BC Place retrofit will not make the stadium issue go away. As long as the Whitecaps continue to pursue a community stadium and a proper home for soccer, we fully support them. We continue to expect our local and federal politicians to do all in their power and influence to expedite and improve this process.

Sincerely Yours,
Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer

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