CFL's Lions and NASL's Whitecaps to play at PNE grounds

{eot} Staff
12/22/2009 2:57:36 PM
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VANCOUVER -- The B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps are returning to their roots.

The CFL Lions will play their 2010 CFL schedule in a 27,500-seat temporary stadium located on the site of old Empire Stadium, it was announced Tuesday. The Whitecaps will begin their inaugural Major League Soccer season in 2011 at the same facility.

The move is necessary because of construction of a new $458-million retractable roof at BC Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver.

David Podmore, chair of the BC Pavilion Corporation which owns BC Place, told a news conference hosted on the Empire Stadium site it will cost $14.4 million to build the temporary facility, then remove it. The cost is included in the budget for BC Place.

The work on BC Place is expected to be completed by July 2011.

The Lions played their first home CFL game at Empire Stadium, located on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in east Vancouver, against the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 11, 1954. The 32,375-seat stadium also hosted the first Grey Cup west of Ontario in 1955.

Stars like Joe Kapp, Willie Fleming and By Bailey played for the Lions before the team moved to BC Place in 1983.

The Whitecaps began play in the old North American Soccer League at Empire Stadium in 1974 before moving to BC Place. The team currently plays at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C.

George Chayka, the Lions vice-president of business, said returning to the Empire Stadium location means the team will play its first home games outdoors in 27 years.

"I think it will be a tremendous opportunity for our fans to rekindle and relive numerous memories," he said.

"We are going to do our very best to make 2010 a season to remember, tying in the retro aspect and the history of our club (while) also giving our fans an opportunity to look forward to the future."

The Lions will host the 2011 Grey Cup.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi grew up near the PNE grounds and dropped in for a coffee with his mother prior to the news conference. He played for the Whitecaps in their first NASL game against the San Jose Earthquakes on May 5, 1974.

"The fact we're able to come back here, start in 2011 with our MLS franchise, (then) move into a new renovated BC Place, it's rather unique," he said.

The temporary facility has a good layout for soccer, Lenarduzzi said.

"It's going to be a very intimate atmosphere," he said. "The seats will be right up next to the field. It will be much like what you see in Europe where you see the fans right on to top of the action.

"For us, I think it provides a double opportunity. We will be able to revisit the nostalgia we had here in a great venue, then we are able to move into a brand-spanking new BC Place."

The Whitecaps will spend the 2010 season playing in the newly formed NASL.

The 2011 MLS season will begin in mid-March, meaning the Whitecaps will need a larger stadium. Lenarduzzi isn't sure how many games the Whitecaps will play at the temporary facility before moving to BC Place.

Chayka said the shift to the Empire facility will be an adjustment for both the Lions and the team's fans.

"Based on what the look and feel of the stadium at the Empire site is going to be, I think it exceeds a lot of our fan's expectations," he said. "We are very pleased."

Podmore said the temporary stadium will have lighting for night games, concession stands and a press box. It also will have 12 private boxes.

The artificial turf the Lions currently use at BC Place will be laid at the temporary facility.

Podmore said naming rights will be sold for the temporary stadium.

"We don't expect it will be called Empire Stadium," he said. "Empire has such special meaning to a lot of us in the community, we're not sure that would be appropriate."

Chayka said fans may find buying tickets for Lions games will be more difficult this season. The team averaged about 28,500 fans last season at the 59,000-seat BC Place.

"With regards to our ticket sales, it is going to provide an element of urgency," he said. "We are going to be playing in a limited venue compared to what fans are used to at BC Place."

The team is also considering playing some afternoon games, something it has not done often in the past.

The Pacific National Exhibition is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2010.

Empire Stadium was opened July 30, 1954, and was built for that year's British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

During the Games both Roger Bannister and John Landy ran the one-mile race in under four minutes. A statue honouring the race stands at the entrance to the PNE grounds.

The stadium had an illustrious history.

The first soccer match was staged there in June 1956 with Everton of the English First Division playing Scottish League champions Aberdeen.

Elvis Presley performed there on Aug. 31, 1957, one of only three appearances he made outside of the United States, and the stadium hosted the only Canadian date on the Beatles' first North American tour on Aug. 22, 1964.

Empire Stadium was demolished in January 1993.

B.C. Place Stadium (Photo: )


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