Surrey stadium pitch is more political grandstanding from Mayor McCallum

Out of nowhere, his familiar spawning ground for policy pronouncements, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has dropped a 10-figure idea for the community in desperation to save his skin.

A 60,000-seat stadium, he suggests, is coming to the city if his Safe Surrey Coalition is elected.

The response in the first few hours has ranged from stupefaction to suspicion. If a stadium proceeds, there will be a need for a Save Surrey Coalition.

Of all Surrey’s needs as it blossoms before long into British Columbia’s largest city, a large-city white elephant is not on anyone’s wish list. Yet there McCallum was in the last day, claiming there are two or three sites already under consideration and that he’ll tell us where and how when he’s ready.

A year ago or a year from now, this would be taken seriously. But a couple of months from an election, in which McCallum has a handful of serious challengers and faces a post-election trial for public mischief, this is a third-and-long, clock-running-out, down-by-six, blitz-facing Hail Mary pass.

Only there are no receivers in the end zone.

Please, someone, blow the whistle and send him to the showers.

Sure, it is expected that an election campaign is all about getting giddy on how you would spend everyone else’s money, and it is also expected that candidates will get a little out there with their visions. It takes a lot to get a little publicity in these days of information overload.

When a city like Surrey lacks a convention centre or a cultural centre, an announcement like McCallum’s can be admired at least for its fearlessness in skipping past what’s needed and riveting on what’s not. He marches to his own, still unidentifiable drummer.

Of course, we know there is already a 55,000-seat stadium in the Lower Mainland, and it has long been unjustifiable. BC Place hosted The Weeknd this week, and he put 40,000 in the stands, but high-end concerts three or four times a year do not a stadium make.

In the middle of the city and in a well-served spot on public transit lines, the BC Lions are 8-1 and the Vancouver Whitecaps are flirting with a playoff position, yet the lower bowl of the two-tiered stadium is not filled. For opening night, the Lions booked One Republic to play before the game and more than 30,000 came, but it would be a business nightmare to try that all season. By the way, the Lions hadn’t heard of McCallum’s plan until they read of it.

There are solid arguments that the emergent fan bases for these two franchises are growing steadily south of the Fraser, but there is hubris and it is innumerate to believe there is a need for a mega-stadium to stage them.

If we are going to have a serious discussion on stadium needs in the region, we need to first be sensible about scale. The business models for the Canadian Football League and much of Major League Soccer are for multi-purpose venues of about 20,000 to 25,000 with some intimacy, sharp-sloped seating, generous parking that costs less than a ticket and top-drawer corporate suites as icing on the cake. The trend is to put these places near the downtown, not on greenfields a long drive away from a population centre.

Even for those facilities, you need to ask: Where is the money?

A proposal for a 60,000-seater begs the questions:

a) Is the National Football League coming there?

b) Is Major League Baseball coming there?

c) Is most every superstar music tour coming there?  

Answers: a) Not a chance, b) No way, c) You’re kidding, right?

Now, if I might channel my inner McCallum, if you want a long-term vision, think about demolishing BC Place to build much-needed central housing and constructing a right-sized arena for football, soccer, maybe one day even Triple-A baseball. Perhaps put it on the PNE grounds and build a SkyTrain extension through it and over to the North Shore. It might be worth contemplating over the next decade, but certainly not over the next 50 days of the election campaign.

McCallum has said he’s talked to the Vancouver Canucks about moving to Surrey and has seemed initially unfamiliar with the notion that a football stadium has yet to be married to a hockey arena, so presumably we’ll hear in another few days about adding a rink into the mix of what would be gargantuan infrastructure.

If you’re with the International Olympic Committee looking for a host, I guess you know now who to call. But hurry, this offer might only be good until October 15.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.