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October 31, 2009

BC Place Roof

There are probably a lot of people, including many NDP supporters, who would like to hear a clear statement from Carole James, or even from one of the NDP critics, that it is wrong to spend over $500 million on a roof for BC Place when the province is in financial trouble and services are being cut.

In his weekly column in the North Shore News (and other CanWest weeklies), Keith Baldrey wrote:

"Do we really need to spend almost $500 million for a new roof on BC Place stadium?
At a time when the B.C. government is pleading poverty and therefore slashing services in health care and education, should this kind of spending be a priority?"

Baldrey went on to argue that the BC Lions and small trade fairs could very well get by with a smaller stadium like the old Empire Stadium. He noted that: "… everything the B.C. government is spending money on these days is framed against the backdrop of what it isn't spending money on." It is hard to come to grips with closed operating rooms, cuts to school sports, the elimination of gaming grants for the arts and closing the effective Eliminating Early Intensive Intervention program for autistic children while at the same time spending a half billion dollars on a roof for an entertainment complex. Is that distorted priorities or what?

Squandering a half billion on the BC Place roof has to be seen in the context of how the issue was dealt with during last spring's provincial election, and how the soccer community forced the NDP to cave in on the issue. Of course, that was when the price tag for the roof was "only" $365 million and while Premier Campbell was promising that the deficit would not be a dime over $495 million. It was months ahead of cuts to special needs children, the arts and school sports, and at least a few weeks ahead of the surprise announcement on the harmonized sales tax. At that less informed spring time, the blogspot "Friends of Soccer" boasted that the NDP : "… should know that the pressure they felt on this issue over the past week is just a fraction of what our community can bring on them, or any political party, if they choose to use sport as a political pawn again." I haven't noticed the "Friends of Soccer" standing up for BC School Sports or for the Special Olympics. Maybe they just care about large scale for-profit sports.

"The 24th Minute", another blog that supported the roof replacement during the last election, quoted AM 1040's Tyler Green and Mike Martignago as claiming that:

"PavCo estimates that the full renovation and retractable roof plan will generate $100 M in annual economic activity, cause savings in energy costs associated with a fixed air-supported roof and create more than 2,000 jobs. Government officials have reported that 300 people are already working on-site on the initial phases of the renovation.
Estimates for the economic impact of an MLS franchise playing at BC Place are in the $25 M per annum range. The BC Lions could drive $35 M to $40 M annually with the increased attendance projected from a retractable roof. The 2011 CFL Grey Cup would generate at least $75 M (based on results from the last hosting in 2005)."

AM 1040 placed a significant role on the stadium issue during the spring election. It was on that station on April 11th that NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth "…told TEAM 1040 sport business commentator Tom Mayenknecht that the BC NDP "supports" the current $365 M BC Liberal government plan going into the May 12th provincial election."

Farnworth and James have the opportunity to further clarify the NDP position in light of the information and decisions that have come out since the election. Major Soccer League (MSL) games had an average attendance of 15,894 last year. Perhaps it is time to ask whether a $500 million retractable roof needs to be built to accommodate that kind of attendance. As Baldrey pointed out with respect to the BC Lions, they don't attract huge crowds; "The only reason we even need a 60,000-seat stadium is to host the Grey Cup game every few years or so, and that doesn't strike me as an important enough reason to spend huge amounts of tax dollars for a mere roof."

Since the BC Pavilion Corporation's David Podmore announced that costs for the retractable roof had ballooned, the NDP response has been left primarily to tourism critic Spencer Herbert. The party's reaction has focused on criticizing the difference in the pre-election and post-election cost estimates. Perhaps the Friends of Soccer were right when they wrote about the political pressure they can bring on any party, but I suspect the NDP would win more respect by showing more backbone on the stadium issue.


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