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.

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.

B.C. Place reno cost more than doubles

The latest numbers are finally in on the ongoing renovation of Vancouver’s B.C. Place, and it’s a bit higher than the $200 million first estimated last year: The new figure is a staggering $523 million, including $458 million to install a retractable roof. “It will be an icon that will be a symbol that will be recognized around the world as Vancouver,” said David Podmore, chair of the provincial BC Pavilion Corporation that owns the dome — presumably speaking of the refurbished stadium, not the price tag.

How all this will be paid for is a bit unclear: The province of British Columbia is lending PavCo the money for the project, which must be paid back within 40 years. PavCo says it’ll do so by selling naming rights and developing land near the stadium — but the naming rights market is in the toilet right now, and the province has estimated that land development would only raise $100 million total. (The government says it will be able to increase the number of dates the stadium is rented out by 20%, and that this would nearly triple revenues; forgive me my skepticism at this math.) I don’t pretend to be an expert on crown corporations, but it seems like there’s at least some risk that PavCo will have to go back to B.C. for a bailout down the road — unless the B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps are intending to pay really, really high rent.