Vancouver Province column: Vancouver is a great sports city — pity about its sports stadiums

The Province
Monday, April 30, 2007

Vancouver has great sports fans — that much has been proven once again during this latest Canucks run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, regardless of how far they go. The fandom extends beyond hockey to other sports, including football, soccer and baseball.

Here’s what missing from this scenario: iconic, world-class outdoor stadiums for a vibrant sports culture. Think Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago.

This is a shame. Compare our situation to that of our southerly neighbour Seattle, home to some of the continent’s finest sporting venues.

Safeco Field, where pro baseball’s Seattle Mariners play, is a shrine to the sport and a tremendous addition to the industrial district south of Seattle’s downtown core.

Neighbouring and newer Qwest Field, home of the National Football League Seahawks, is equally impressive as a Seattle architectural landmark — its ambitious roof design looming large over Puget Sound.

In part, Qwest Field is a testament to the corporate muscle that exists in Seattle. Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks team owner Paul Allen paid for 30 per cent of the stadium’s cost out of his own pocket.

And that brings us back to Vancouver, and its frustrating tale of two stadiums –one that has yet to be built, the other potentially set for a post-2010 date with the wrecking ball.

Pundits here have traditionally argued that a lack of corporate clout has translated into minimal investment in civic amenities.

But that argument has fallen flat since Vancouver Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot, a trailblazer in software circles, decided to parlay his passion for soccer into the funding of a state-of-the-art, $70 million, open-air stadium on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.

So what’s the hold-up on Vancouver’s smaller-scale answer to Qwest and Safeco? It has since met resistance from those concerned about blocked views, imposing architecture, so-called noise pollution and the imagined spectre of drunken soccer hooligans marauding through Crab Park and Gastown post-game on a Sunday afternoon.

To their credit, the stadium’s backers have since gone back to the drawing board to address some of these concerns. But the ongoing review-approval process is set to be a long slog.

Bottom-line: Between NIMBYism and red tape, it will be years yet before fans can converge on the downtown waterfront to soak up sunshine and soccer in a world-class sports venue.

In the meantime, several blocks south of the waterfront site, the beleaguered B.C. Place Stadium is finally getting over its brush with infamy after suffering through a collapsed roof.

While it’s business as usual for the stadium these days, the lingering memory of the roof flapping in the January wind helps underscore Vancouver’s sombre civic reality: We’re a city with a great sports tradition in spite of its stadiums.

This sports town deserves so much better.

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Filed under Architecture, Neighbourhoods, Nimbies, Seattle, Sports, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

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