NEWS
09/30/2011 10:38 EDT | Updated 11/30/2011 05:12 EST

Revitalized BC Place stadium officially opened by premier, athletes, workers

VANCOUVER - Construction workers, professional athletes and provincial politicians cut the ribbon to open the newly refurbished BC Place stadium in Vancouver Friday night.

Moments later, more than 40,000 football fans poured through the doors to watch the hometown B.C. Lions battle the Edmonton Eskimos in the 55,000 seat stadium.

Grammy and Juno award-winning recording artist Sarah McLachlan added some star power to the opening night festivities when she sang the national anthem before the game.

Also on hand was former B.C. premier Bill Bennett, who opened the original BC Place stadium back in 1983.

More than $563 million was spent on renovating the facility.

"Let me say this is an absolute honour and privilege for our football club to be able to call this our home stadium," said Dennis Skulsky, president and CEO of the B.C. Lions football club.

"We have a crown jewel here that we as British Columbians will all be very proud of for many years to come."

Premier Christy Clark said the revitalized BC Place was a magnificent building that British Columbians could be proud of.

She said patrons won't see the stadium's seismic upgrades, but will notice the improved access points, concourses and concessions. She also noted that the revitalization work employed 5,000 people.

"It's just an amazing, amazing facility that will be the jewel of sports and entertainment for the entire province of British Columbia," said Clark.

Along with the Lions, BC Place will also be home turf for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Paul Barber, the soccer team's CEO, said the stadium was a world-class facility they were all lucky to have.

The revitalization began in 2010, shortly after the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The huge air-supported roof that looked like a dirty marshmallow on the Vancouver skyline has been replaced by 36 roof support masts that resemble a crown.

The formerly drab concrete building now sparkles with clear glazing. Antiquated revolving doors have given way to grand entrances, and the once cold, dark interior is now flooded with natural light.

The renovations include a retractable roof which can be opened or closed in 20 minutes. A huge video board hangs in the centre with two HD screens that are the equivalent of 450, 42-inch flat-screen TVs.

Throughout the building there are 800 Wi-Fi points and 1,150 digital screens. There are also new, wider seats, improved acoustics, modern turf, and enhanced concession and bathroom facilities.

Nine year old Charlie Ward of Aldergrove, B.C. was clearly impressed by the new digs, saying the stadium looked "huge." His friend Josh Patrick, also nine, described the stadium as "pretty cool," and noted the new seating allowed for more elbow room.

Tour operator David Ash said the massive video boards add a lot to the facility, and the higher roof makes it more spacious.

"It's just a stunning facility. I think everyone should get down for a game," he said.

Surrey, B.C. resident Lisa Higgins, a Lions fan for 30 years, said Friday night was the first time she had been in the stadium in a wheelchair and that access for disabled people was — as she put it — "so far, so good."

The Vancouver Whitecaps play the Portland Timbers in a Major League Soccer match Sunday.

BC Place will host the Grey Cup in November and the CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer tournament in January.

(With files from Jim Morris)