BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Place Sale By NDP No Easy Feat, Experts Say

04/24/2013 08:32 EDT | Updated 06/24/2013 05:12 EDT
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VANCOUVER - Selling the Crown-owned BC Place stadium to pay off government debt may be a popular proposal during the provincial election, but experts say accomplishing it may not be so easy.

B.C. New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix announced Wednesday he'll consider putting the downtown Vancouver stadium, operated by the Crown-owned B.C. Pavilion Corporation and the home of the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps, on the block if elected May 14.

But first, he'll appoint a panel of business and community experts who will have 90 days to look at Pavco's books and report back to government.

Renovations to the stadium completed in the fall of 2011 cost $514 million. When the province announced the upgrade in 2009, the cost was pegged at $365 million.

Tom Mayenknecht, a sports-business commentator in Vancouver, said any possible sale would have to involve a consortium of interests.

"I don't think there's a large pool of people in Canada that would have the wherewithal and the business plan or business synergies to say, 'yes, we're going to buy BC Place,' said Mayenknecht. "I think it's a very select set of individuals and corporate interests."

And Mayenknecht said he doesn't think either of the stadium's two principal tenants, the Lions or the Whitecaps, would step forward individually or as a group with a purchase proposal.

After all, he said Whitecaps and B.C. Lions home games add up to less than one-tenth of the stadium's calendar dates.

Other business interests would be required, he added, including concert promoters and event-management businesses and corporations, as well as money from naming rights.

Mayenknecht said he was surprised to hear the proposal come from the NDP.

"I'm certainly biased because I believe that fully taxpayer funded stadiums should go the way of the dodo bird," he said. "The best models are either public-private partnerships or fully privately owned and funded stadiums."

There's more of a focus on sustainability when private interests are involved in a stadium, a focus that doesn't always happen when the facilities are held publicly, he said.

Tsur Somerville, associate professor at the Sauder School of Business and head of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said BC Place's greatest value sits in its land and parking lot.

"From a straight business standpoint, if you were a private business you would buy the stadium, get the parking lot next to it, tear the stadium down and build real estate," he said.

As a result, he said any sale would need to include a stipulation that the new owners would have to operate the stadium for a specified number of years.

"But the value to any buyer is the value of the real estate 50 years from now plus the value of the parking lot that you can develop on," he added.

Somerville said the stadium's debt, or the financial obligation to the province, is also an issue.

"There's no possible way that land is worth anything close to that obligation," he added.

Premier Christy Clark called Dix's announcement a stunt.

"Adrian Dix has been sharply critical of the fact that the government has decided to dispose of surplus assets," she said.

"I can tell you when we put together our balanced budget, we did that after qualified public servants had spent many, many months valuing those assets, knowing there were buyers for those assets and we plugged those numbers into the budget."

BC Place was not on the list of assets the government plans to sell.

The stadium was officially opened by former premier Bill Bennett in 1983. The revitalization project began in 2010, shortly after the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Renovations replaced a huge air-supported roof with 36 roof-support masts that resemble a crown. The retractable roof can be opened or closed in 20 minutes.

The stadium also boasts a huge video board with two HD screens that are the equivalent of 450, 42-inch flat-screen TVs.

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