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The Globe and Mail

B.C. Place to be gussied up in time for 2011 Grey Cup

B.C. Place stadium is pictured from the east end of False Creek as work continues on a new retractable fabric roof in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 8, 2010. The stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies during the Vancouver Olympics.


The $565-million in renovations to B.C. Place Stadium will be competed next fall, long before the Grey Cup game in November is scheduled to take centre stage, says David Podmore, head of the Crown corporation that runs the facility.

Exactly when the B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps, who will be playing their first season of Major League Soccer, can return to the refurbished building remains more of a grey area.

Podmore became irritated when it was pointed out a fall move-in date could span several possible months.

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"I've answered your question," he said. "If we can do it earlier, we will."

During a news conference Monday, it was announced the theme for the 2011 Grey Cup will be Raise the Roof.

Ticket prices for the game will range from $125 to $375. The price for Lions season-ticket holders drops to between $100 and $295.

The centrepiece of the B.C. Place renovation is a $458-million retractable roof.

The old, marshmallow dome that was part of Vancouver's skyline for years has been removed. Several towers now rise above the stadium bowl like the skeleton of some prehistoric creature.

Podmore said the project is on time and on budget, but installing the cables for the roof is "technically a difficult project."

Once that's complete, the Crown corporation will have a better idea of when the Lions and Whitecaps can move in.

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Lions owner David Braley said he expects to know by May, when season tickets are printed, how many games his team will play at B.C. Place.

"I didn't say all of them," said Braley, a Hamilton businessman and member of the Senate. "There might be an exhibition game someplace else. Those dates are not determined."

The Lions could play their first two or three regular-season games on the road, allowing them more home games in the new facility.

The Lions have played this season at Empire Field, a 27,500-seat temporary facility located on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in East Vancouver. The stadium cost $14.4-million to build and was assembled in 111 days.

Braley said the move cost him about 1,600 season ticket holders a game and three major sponsors.

After several years of turning a profit, the Lions will be lucky to break even this year.

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"We knew that was going to happen and we budgeted for it," Braley said.

"I didn't lose a lot of money. We have no idea at this point if we are going to be up $100,000 or down $100,000."

The Whitecaps, who were part of the United States Soccer Federation Division 2 this season, played at 5,200-seat Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C. They expect to begin their MLS season at Empire Field.

The Lions played a June 20 exhibition game at Empire Field and the first regular-season home game was July 4. The team played its final home game of the season last Sunday.

The idea of football outdoors again, in a more intimate stadium than the cavernous 60,000-seat B.C. Place, generated some early excitement in Vancouver. The home opener, on a warm night against the popular Saskatchewan Roughriders, was a sellout.

As the season progressed, attendance dropped because of problems both on and off the field.

The Lions stumbled to a 1-7 start and won just three of nine home games.

Fans attending games experienced long lineups for washrooms and food stands, all of which were outside the stadium. Parking was expensive and public transit limited. The Lions drew under 25,000 five times and twice less than 22,000. The team averaged over 28,600 in 2009.

Braley, 69, owns both the Lions and Toronto Argonauts. He hinted that if he sells one team, it will be the Argonauts.

"One of those teams will be for sale after I get the Toronto situation sorted out," he said. "I would anticipate six or seven years from now, when I'm 75 years of age, I will not own two football teams. I don't know if I will own one or not. I love the Lions. I have orange blood in me. This is my team."

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