Vancouver stadium reno cost many times initial estimates (but you knew that)

Business Vancouver has an “exclusive” today that the renovation of the B.C. Lions‘ and Vancouver Whitecaps‘ B.C. Place, which cost $514 million, was originally projected to cost less than one-fifth that amount:

“In order for BC Place to remain over the long term, major improvements and upgrading are necessary,” wrote PavCo’s then-chairman David Podmore in a confidential January 2008 letter to Vancouver’s city manager Judy Rogers. “The scope of the rehabilitation project is in the order of $100 million, which includes replacement of the roof.”

That’s pretty remarkable … except for the fact that British Columbia legislative assemblymember Rob Fleming already said that the project was originally supposed to cost only $60 million, circa 2006. So having $100 million in writing as the target figure is interesting, but not exactly groundbreaking news.

The really interesting part, meanwhile, would be about how the hell the construction cost soared so much — they only put on a retractable roof and added some suites and stuff, while spending almost as much as the cost of an entirely new stadium. About that, Business Vancouver has nothing much to say. There was a $25 million cost overrun with installing the steel cables that hold up the roof— contractor Marc Dutil called the complexity of the cable system “mind-boggling” and said, “You can look at a 3-D animation, a picture on the Web, and then you step inside and look at it and you think ‘Oh my God'” — but the construction companies say they absorbed that. Of course, given that the contract for installing the cables for the roof alone ended up at $125 million, you have to think there was some lowballing going on in those initial $60 million and $100 million price tags; anything to get people onto the lot.

7 comments on “Vancouver stadium reno cost many times initial estimates (but you knew that)

  1. Reminds of me of when SkyDome was built. The initial cost projections were a fraction of the final cost, in part because the final requirements kept changing throughout the project. At first there would be no roof, then they toyed with the idea of adding enclosed rows of seats directly above the playig surface where a roof could be, then they wanted a roof, and they decided it had to be retractable. The project was in the planning stages for years before any construction began.
    But it’s not like Canada is the only country where cost over-runs occur.

  2. Chris A :”final requirements kept changing throughout the project”

    You hit the nail on the head with that, its the key for any company when working with a govt on a project.

    I have 30+ years in the defense industry this change of requirements happens all the time on all projects. From the point of view of the contractor we love it lol!…

  3. Change orders are the death knell of any project’s budget…

    Vancouver’s stadium did run massively over budget, Neil, but to be fair the original $60-100m estimates (as I remember them) included replacing the existing air supported TFE roof, not installing the Allianz Arena style “thing”. That decision alone involved a massive cost increase.

    As I recall, they went from $60m+ to “$100M”, then to $350m (give or take) when the retractable folding whatchamacallit was selected. Then it went to $411m after the next round of estimates (at which time I think, but am not sure, that some mods were made to the design to accommodate the Whitecaps)… and then to the half billion range…. and in the final reckoning, yep, $563m tax dollars gone forever.

    Interestingly, one of the early options in regard to BC place (which is more or less in downtown Vancouver) was to sell the land for condo development, then use the proceeds to build a new facility elsewhere (IE: not on a piece of the most expensive real estate in the country). I’ve no idea what they thought they could earn from the sale (my guess would be close to zero after demolition and site prep costs… all of which would no doubt have remained on the public dime, but maybe I’m too pessimistic), but I can’t imagine they could have cleared more than $150m in even the best scenario.

  4. When are folks gonna get it? So many stadium cost projections are blown up by “cost overruns”. WHY? Because politicians and franchise owners lowball the numbers presented to get what they want knowing that the final tab will be much more. But that doesn’t show up until the project is underway or completed and they know that the difference will be made up from the trough that they’re feeding from. Anybody remember the Yankee Stadium “renovation” cost skyrocketing from $20M to over $100M?
    Get with it folks, lack of initial scrutiny will co$t you in the long run.

  5. Paul, I agree. However, I would say it isn’t necessarily a lack of initial scrutiny that is the problem… more that the stadium/project proponents are almost always lying through their teeth.

    Any city considering a new stadium/olympic bid etc should hire a third party firm to obtain their own cost estimates before any decision on building/bidding is made.

  6. The owner of the Whitecaps bought land on the waterfront and with his own money wanted to build a 30k soccer stadium. However they wouldnt give him the OK for years and the govt made him a sweet deal to play at a new renovated park. Sometimes an owner tries to spend his own money but the Hacks insist on blowing tax payer money.

  7. Steven:

    He didn’t buy the land, he negotiated options to purchase some of it. Part of the proposed lands included existing railyards owned by CN that would have to be relocated to make way for the stadium. Kerfoot never did reach an agreement with them to relocate, nor find a location to relocate them to as far as I recall.

    I agree that a Whitecaps waterfront stadium would have been great (at least for sports fans, what it would do to transit and traffic in one of North America’s most congested cities I don’t know…) for the the club, but suggesting it was a “done deal” that the city refused is stretching the facts quite a bit. Kerfoot had (and has) the money to do it. What he never actually got was agreements for the land on/over which the stadium would sit.

    If he had gotten agreements with CN, paid for the relocation of their infrastructure and gotten approval from Vancouver before releasing his drawings, it might have been different. He didn’t, of course. No-one ever does.

    Much easier to get public approval for something when you can backfoot the local politicos right off the bat.