VANCOUVER — B.C. Place stadium, home of the B.C. Lions, rock concerts and boat shows, is getting a retractable roof to replace its tired air-suspended dome.
The project will cost $458 million, at a time when the province is battling a deficit.
"It’s a tough time to make a commitment like this but it creates huge employment," David Podmore, chairman of the Crown-owned B.C. Pavilion Corp. that runs the stadium, said in an interview. "It’s shelf-ready. We will be underway with work on Monday morning on this project."
Podmore and Kevin Krueger, B.C.’s minister of tourism, culture and the arts, announced that it is a fixed-price contract they’ve signed with PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
Major construction is to begin after the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games but Podmore said some work will start immediately.
The project is scheduled for completion by summer 2011, in time for the stadium to host the Canadian Football League Grey Cup game and to welcome the new Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer team.
Although the B.C. Liberal government committed to the project last year, the recession put that commitment under a cloud.
"We’re ecstatic," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who suggested delaying the project would mean the MLS soccer franchise "would have needed revisiting.
"When the economic environment resulted in some indecision on the renovation, it was a cause of anxiety for us," he said.
"Without that announcement there was some significant decisions that would have been required from us."
But the project cost is raising some eyebrows. Last January, the government announced a $365-million revitalization for B.C. Place that included the retractable roof, seismic upgrade and interior renovations.
Despite the fixed-price contract, NDP critic Spencer Herbert said he’s worried this could turn into a replay of the recently-completed Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre expansion, which went from an initial budget of $500 million to a cost of $900 million.
But Podmore said the January figure was never meant to be firm because engineering work and drawings had not been completed.
He said the increase is due to stronger engineering requirements revealed after wind-tunnel, snow-load and seismic testing, he said.
Podmore, who became head of the corporation in 2007, said B.C. Pavilion Corp., learned its lesson from the convention centre, which it also operates.
And he noted he brought the final phase of the convention centre in well under its $83-million budget.
The roof project will be funded by a loan from the provincial government to be repaid out of future operating revenues, sponsorship rights and money from the sale of development rights to adjacent land near the False Creek waterfront site.
Podmore said the land sale should bring in well over the initial $100-million estimate.
B.C. Place was finished in 1983 at a cost of $126 million with a then state-of-the-art air-suspended fabric dome. Pressure to replace the roof grew after the mushroom-shaped dome ripped open and collapsed under the weight of snow in a 2007 storm.
The B.C. Lions will play next season at a temporary field on the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds. If the roof isn’t finished on time, Lenarduzzi said the MLS Whitecaps may join them there for their initial games in 2011.
Both clubs have signed long-term deals for B.C. Place.
The Whitecaps had wanted to build a privately funded soccer stadium of their own. Lenarduzzi won’t say if that project is still alive.