Vancouver’s new (old) stadium is a broken, expensive eyesore

In 2008, PavCo, a crown corporation taxed with operating Vancouver’s 55,000 seat BC Place Stadium, announced a $150M renovation which would include the replacement of BC Place’s inflatable roof with a retractable cloth roof.

This was likely their way of addressing the rather dramatic deflation of that facility in the winter of 2007, when the ceiling literally collapsed during a storm.   This sounded like a good idea — it was anchored on attracting a Major League Soccer franchise to the city and for PavCo was designed to foil proposals for a ~$70M, 20,000 seat shoreline stadium fronted by Greg Kerfoot et al, owners of that MLS franchise (the Whitecaps). BC Place opened in 1984 and has never once turned a profit.  Presently it loses approximately $6.3M per year of taxpayer dollars.  It was built for Expo ’86 and was designed as a modernist building in an era when the city around it was humble and underdeveloped — a shining example of the future, or what we thought it might hold architecturally, way back in 1980.

In the intervening 30 years, the City of Vancouver has very much grown up around it, both physically and spiritually.  Many glass and brick (honouring Yaletown’s storied history) buildings have grown up around it, and as a result BC Place now stands as an architectural anachronism casting its giant hulking bare concrete mass amidst what might otherwise be termed a neighbourhood.

I think I am not speaking out of turn when I suggest that it is objectively, fundamentally, and irreparably ugly. At $150M though, retrofitting this beast with a retractable roof (which it always should have had) seemed more sensible than a new stadium which we were told could cost 3x-4x as much — of taxpayer dollars, of course.  So there we set the course.  Fund it.  Build it.  Move on.

Had this been any other city, any other country, or any other province it might have ended there.   But of course it hasn’t. By January 2009, this $150M price tag was inflated to $365M.   Construction costs for the roof and supporting structure were attributed to “seismic upgrades”, “plumbing”, and other euphemisms to mask the fact that the project began experiencing overruns even prior to commencement.   Then by the end of 2009 it was announced that the official budget was now $458M… with no mention made of earthquakes or plumbing. This now exceeded the cost of the proposed Whitecaps stadium (which was also to have a retractable roof) by 650%.

… and now rivalled the cost of building brand new structures around the world with retractable roof capabilities and much, much more.   Munich’s Allianz Arena, which I toured just after it opened, was completed in 2006 for a cost of €286M and seats 60,000.   That stadium houses two Futbol teams and is near capacity for every event.   In a disastrous project gone wrong, the good citizens of Indianapolis still ended up with a massive 70,000 seat stadium and conference centre for the bargain price of $700M (and which actually looks like it might fit in nicely in Yaletown).  By comparison, BC Place has 50,000+ seats — but it has almost never been full in 25 years of operational history.

Kerfoot’s earlier proposal highlighted the fact that Vancouver doesn’t need a 50,000 seat stadium.   So to get to a stadium of the size we really need?

An example might be Seattle’s SafeCo Field, which seats 30,000 for football, at a price tag of about $516M 10 years ago. But not us.   We didn’t need a huge stadium but we’ve got one, and now we’re doubling down on a 30-year-old bad bet by Bill Bennett which, it was revealed today, doesn’t even work in the rain.   That’s right.   We live in the rainiest big city in North America, and the retractable roof cannot retract in the rain. So… let’s see.   We’re spending more than the cost of building a brand new stadium that could be designed to fit into the neighbourhood around it.

And as the curtain is lifted on the publicly-funded project it’s becoming quite clear that the finished product is doomed to cast a huge, ugly shadow over the entire city, doesn’t function as promised, and has a capacity hugely in excess of that which we need.   Have I got everything correct? Thought so.

** UPDATE Nov. 5/2010 – Bob Mackin reveals the new price tag is now an unconfirmed $563M.

3 thoughts on “Vancouver’s new (old) stadium is a broken, expensive eyesore

  1. Why would you want to retract the roof in the rain?

    Seriously though, not being able to close the roof during bad weather is not a big issue. So it starts raining during a game? So what? The game goes on, and the players get wet. The seating areas are still all covered.

    From a usability standpoint, the roof is an amazing upgrade that will vastly improve the atmosphere in the stadium, and will almost certainly attract more business in terms of conventions and trade shows.

    From an architectural standpoint, the stadium is, well, shall we say… striking, and I’m trying to reserve final judgment until the whole thing is done and lit. But at the moment it looks a bit monstrous, and is definitely not the most elegant solution. I just keep wondering why they required 36 masts to support the structure when most other stadiums I’ve seen have only four, if any. Maybe it has to do with being able to withstand heavy wet snow, or earthquake proofing, but man… that is one spikey, busy looking roof!

  2. Agree this stadium is not going to be the prettiest.

    I think the media is overreacting on the “won’t close in rain”, but we will see. They won’t be able to close in 20 minutes like the skydome. I don’t think PAVCO had the option to go with a solid retractable roof due to BC Place’s original design. I can;t think of too many use cases where the stadium won;t have made the decision to keep the roof open or closed well in advance of the event.

    The better comparison for Seattle stadiums is Qwest Field where the football and soccer teams play. Safeco is a pure baseball stadium, not multi-use.

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