Hot summer topics: demolish BC Place and ditch art gallery plan

The summer heat sometimes spurs dangerous thoughts. Here goes.

Two significant buildings in our city need to be rethought. One is built and ought not to have been; one aims to be built and ought not to be.

Is it time to reconsider the existence of BC Place, if only to staunch the financial bleeding and recognize our community cannot sustain a 54,500-seat stadium?

And is it time to reconsider our behind-schedule effort to finance a new Vancouver Art Gallery? There could be an alternative that does not further tax the public purse in grants or forfeit tax arising from donations.

Their functions are needed but the buildings are headed in the wrong financial direction. Their fates should be discussed – now, in the municipal campaign – in the contexts of addressing our critical housing issues and acknowledging our realistic professional sport and outdoor-music needs.

Yes, there is no forgetting, less than a decade ago the province sank nearly a half-billion dollars into BC Place’s renovation. It sounds like lunacy to tear it down, but much as the facelift and roof-fixing seemed warranted, the hopes of a much more vibrant stadium have not been fulfilled – and won’t be.

As an avid season’s ticket holder for both, neither the BC Lions nor Vancouver Whitecaps fill even the lower bowl. Their leagues are budgeted for more intimate 20,000 to 25,000 attendance. Apart from offering a stage each year for a couple of trade shows and three or four marquee concerts, BC Place is too much building for too little purpose. Besides, the World Cup isn’t coming and budding soccer star Alphonso Davies is leaving. A more logical land use would be market housing that cross-subsidizes below-market housing in a cluster of buildings whose desirable location offers access to transit and the downtown. A more logical venue would seat about 25,000, like Toronto’s BMO Field for pro football and soccer.

The rents are favourable at BC Place, but the concession deals aren’t, and with a better arrangement a new facility would be a more ideal economic proponent for football, soccer and rugby. While there is much to love about Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, if one day we wished, a new stadium would exceed facility requirements to lure Double-A or even Triple-A baseball. Given the 93% sell-through rate for the Single-A Vancouver Canadians and the higher-calibre ball, we could theoretically support it. (Why not baseball at BC Place? The scoreboard hanging over mid-field is in pop-up territory.)

Where to put it? Probably city-owned Hastings Park, possibly at the expense of Hastings Racecourse. There is reasonable parking capacity already for Playland, the Pacific National Exhibition and Pacific Coliseum. Add some express buses from surrounding communities and the nearest transit lines. With help from the provincial Crown corporation benefiting from the land deal, private funds could build it and work out an operating agreement.

Another contentious idea: shelve the proposal for the free-standing Vancouver Art Gallery and instead place it inside a large new building at the same site whose Community Amenities Contributions (CACs) would be the gallery’s construction and operation. It would resemble the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), with lower floors for exhibits and the permanent collection and upper floors as offices or residences or both.

The gallery is trying to finance a $350 million move to vacant space the city will provide at West Georgia and Cambie. But that empty lot has many years ahead of it at this pace: the gallery is less than halfway to its $100 million target in donations.

A swifter track would pin the cost – a much lower cost, admittedly – on a developer and help address another piece of the housing challenge with a blend of market and below-market dwellings.

Like the new stadium, the gallery’s scale would reflect who we are and what we will support. It’s wonderful to think big, but if you’re going to try to act big, you need to deliver big.

Of course, this could be the heat talking. 

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.