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.

Dolphins, Argonauts: We need new stadiums because our old ones are too roomy

Yesterday was the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, and I bet most of my non-Canadian readers couldn’t tell you what the score was, what teams played in it, or how many yards long the field was. (They might have heard that Justin Bieber got booed lustily at halftime, though.) But anyway, championship games aren’t really about winners and losers, they’re about media opportunities for league commissioners to stump for new stadiums:

The Toronto Argonauts need to have their own, smaller stadium in the long term, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said Friday as he fielded questions following his annual state of the union address.

“They want to make the Rogers Centre work and you will see on Sunday when that stadium is full that it’s exciting,” Cohon said. “But I think long term, when you look at the size of the new Tiger-Cats stadium and the size of the new stadium in Ottawa, all around 24,000 seats, that’s perfect for CFL football.

“I think a long-term plan should incorporate a strategy around potentially a new stadium in the Toronto region.”

The Rogers Centre (née Skydome) was, of course, built at huge public expense in part to serve as the home of the Argonauts, which is why it has that old-school circular shape and artificial turf. Any prospect of a new Argos stadium is a long way off just yet, but if it picks up steam, you have to wonder if the Blue Jays owners will begin agitating for a baseball-only facility as well. In fact, really shouldn’t every sports team have one stadium for well-attended games, and a smaller one for games where tickets are hard to come by? It’s been done before.

And the Argonauts aren’t the only ones complaining that their stadium is too plus-sized:

Completed in 1987 as team founder Joe Robbie’s answer to the decaying Orange Bowl, the Dolphins’ home is now the 10th-oldest stadium in the NFL. It has few eye-popping features to compete with the home-viewing experience and, with a capacity of 75,540, it’s too big for the club’s dwindling number of season-ticket holders…

The stadium has seen more than $300 million in improvements in the past 7 1/2 years – primarily in upgrades to the club and suite levels and the high-definition scoreboards – but attendance remains disappointing and the low-tech facility doesn’t give Super Bowl bids much punch.

“We’ve got a 25-year-old facility, and it clearly needs some tender loving care,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. “This facility, in its current form, is not going to serve the anchor tenants for the long-term. We’re going to be in a competitive environment with a lot of facilities that have been built in the last 10 years. Clearly, it’s something that’s going to have to be addressed at some point.”

So, to recap: The Dolphins need a new stadium in order to draw more fans, and also to accommodate fewer fans, and also because it’s 25 years old, except for the parts that were just upgraded. Maybe they should go back to complaining that they built the seating bowl all wrong, and won’t someone please fix it for them?

Ottawa gets new CFL team! Cost: $196m and public land

The Ottawa city council has finally voted to approve the Frank Clair Stadium reconstruction plan that has been kicking around in litigation for more than two years, and got its reward: The CFL announced that it plans to give Ottawa an expansion team starting in 2014, bringing football back to Canada’s capital for the first time since 2006, when the Renegades folded thanks to massive disinterest.

The estimated public cost is currently at $196 million, plus the use of public parkland for the housing and retail that developer Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is insisting on getting to build if it’s going to redo the stadium. With public money. But at least it’ll have lots of computer-generated trees, ghostly skyscrapers, and lite jazz!

Regina signs MOU to stick public with most of Roughriders stadium cost

The city of Regina has filled in the missing $138 million in its $278 million Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium plan, signing a memorandum of understanding to build the stadium by 2017. The new funding plan:

  • The previously announced $80 million grant from the province of Saskatchewan.
  • $73 million in cash from Regina, up from the previously announced $60 million.
  • A $100 million provincial loan from the city, to be paid back by a $12 per ticket fee on all events at the new stadium.
  • $25 million from the Roughriders.

That means that the public would be on the hook for more than 50% of the stadium cost, plus taking on the risk on that $100 million if ticket sales fall short of projections. Plus paying $230 million in operating costs on the stadium over the next 30 years. Most of this would be paid off from property tax revenues, though there’s also an $80 million chunk that’s summed up merely as “other revenue.”

The plan still needs to be signed off on by the Regina city council.

Saskatchewan offers $80m toward $278m Roughriders stadium

The province of Saskatchewan has promised to spend $80 million on a new Roughriders stadium, which sounds more momentous until you realize that a new stadium is expected to cost $278 million. (It was going to be $431 million with a roof, but apparently now the plan is to make it “roof-ready” and let somebody else worry about that bit.) The city of Regina has offered to put in $60 million, which leaves the plan about 50% funded, and 50% wishful thinking.

The province did offer to extend loans to the city for the some of the remainder, but that would just make it the city’s problem how to pay back the loans. Given that the Roughriders are owners by a Green Bay Packers-style community partnership, there’s no deep-pocketed owner to make up the difference, but it’s always possible the team could decide it’s worth paying increased rent to cover the public costs, in order to get a new stadium. Given past history, probably not, though.

Calgary Stampeders: Oh, yeah, we need stadium renovations too

You know what I was just thinking Canada really needs? Another stadium demand:

The president and chief operating officer of the Calgary Stampeders held a news conference on Monday afternoon to stress that McMahon Stadium is in need of a serious facelift and that it’s also time for interested stakeholders to step up.

“I’m sure the people are aware,” he said. “Especially our fans, our sponsors, and everyone else that it’s critical for the Stampeders and this franchise and, I believe, this city for us to address a 50-year-old facility.”

For now, Stampeders president Lyle Bauer is just calling for renovated “concessions, washrooms, and general concourse amenities” at 51-year-old McMahon Stadium, and hasn’t put a price tag on it, let alone specified who’d pay. Still, consider it a warning shot across the bow: If everybody else is getting new or rehabbed stadiums, the Stamps want their piece of the action.

B.C. Place is “cheerier” after $563m reno, but does it pay?

Vancouver’s newly renovated, soon-to-be-corporate-renamed B.C. Place reopened this weekend for games by the B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps, and initial reports were positive: With a new retractable roof, scoreboard, lounges and suites, and redone concessions concourses, the stadium is “a lot cheerier looking,” according to one longtime fan, and — inevitably — “world-class,” according to The Province newspaper.

Which it had better be, considering that the province (the province this time, not the newspaper) spent $563 million upgrading the place. That’s up from an initial estimate of $60 million, according to British Columbia assembly member Rob Fleming. Yes, retractable roofs are expensive, and there’s also some retractable seating to convert the place from football to soccer use, but it still seems a hefty price tag for a building where most of the original steel and concrete remains in place.

As for what B.C. will get for its investment, the province projects an extra $40 million a year in economic activity, which would be enough to pay off the $563 renovation cost … except that that’s only economic activity (i.e., money changing hands in the local economy), not actual tax receipts, so any benefit to taxpayers is likely to be exponentially lower. Also, economist Dennis Coates thinks even these figures are hogwash. So enjoy your fresh air, Vancouver sports fans; you’re paying for it.

Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne to be replaced, not rebuilt

While we’re in Canada, it was announced last week that Ivor Wynne Stadium, home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, won’t be getting a renovation as approved last February, but instead will be completely demolished and replaced. The rebuild, city officials promised, could be done under the same $152 million budget, so why not buy a new stadium instead of keeping half an old one?

It sounds reasonable enough, except for the bit where this was apparently decided back in April but not made public until now. As the Hamilton Spectator editorialized last week:

By the way, how does it happen that a complete rebuild will cost the same as rebuilding the south and renovating the north? Again, we’re told, don’t worry your little heads about it. According to senior city staff, more study on the project resulted in a more “refined” cost estimate. So the original estimate was too high? But why? And since city council made the Ivor Wynne decision based on the original cost and project description, doesn’t this mean the decision was made on inaccurate information?

So the north stands will go from benches to seats. But how much money could have been saved by sticking with the original plan — $5 million, $10 million? Shouldn’t council have had the option of making that decision instead of being presented with a fait accompli? Shouldn’t council have had the chance to decide between applying the savings to other projects — say the increasingly expensive velodrome — or putting the money back into the Future Fund where it came from originally?

Apparently not. The decision was made and communicated to a bewildered city council. Poof. New stadium. Don’t worry, be happy.

Vegas arena plans, Anaheim Kings subsidies, and more

A few items that fell through the cracks over the last week:

  • Those plans for a tax-increment-financing-funded arena on the Las Vegas Strip got officially killed last week by the Nevada legislature — which then immediately expressed its intention to put a different arena plan on the ballot in 2012.
  • The Anaheim city council is considering paying for upgrades to the Honda Center if the Sacramento Kings move there. No word on how much the renovations would cost, how they would be paid for, or why the city would have any reason to pay for them in the first place.
  • Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. reiterated his call for a new hotel near the Yankees‘ stadium to help bail out those money-losing parking garages. Diaz presumably is more interested in using the garage fiasco as leverage to get more development for his borough; why city taxpayers should want to throw good money after bad is another question…
  • A Canadian government analysis projects that for the federal government to pay for a Quebec hockey arena and a Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium, it would require ticket taxes of as much as $42 per ticket to pay off construction costs. That sounded crazy to me at first, but given that we’re only talking about a million fans a year (combined NHL and CFL), it actually makes sense: A $42 ticket tax would generate $42 million a year, which is about enough to pay off $600 million in costs spread across two stadiums. It would also be insane, of course, but it’s a good reminder of why teams don’t generally jump to build stadiums with their own money — new sports facilities face a hugely uphill battle to earn back their own construction costs.

Liberal Party: We’d fund Canadian sports arenas

Canada’s Liberal Party is now trying to use the Quebec arena fight to score political points, as party leader Michael Ignatieff has declared that he’d be happy to provide federal funds for the project — or, for that matter, sports stadiums and arenas in other parts of Canada — if only he were, you know, prime minister:

“It’s not a question of giving little gifts here and there,” he said. “I think the project is important because it’s a public space. That’s what counts, a public space to present the culture, to present the economic success of the region.

“And if the same case arises in Regina or Vancouver I’ll say the same thing … If we’re talking about a public space that contributes to the development of that region, then the federal government can contribute.”

“A public space that contributes to the development of that region” — that’s a pretty broad category, considering how far stadium boosters like to stretch the meaning of public benefit. And it’s a way more lenient standard than that used by the federal P3 fund, which in any case explicitly excludes sports facilities for consideration.

The real goal, presumably, is to woo Quebec voters who are steamed that the feds aren’t going to be chipping in to try to bring a new version of the Nordiques back to their city. Whether it plays as well in the rest of Canada — where, let’s not forget, the prospect of federal subsidies to NHL teams previously prompted an all-out citizen revolt — is another story.