The Canadian Football League’s (CFL) B.C. Lions are going back to their roots for the coming season by returning to the site on which historic Empire Stadium once stood in Hastings Park in East Vancouver. It’s just too bad the Lions have called for building a drab, uninspiring structure to discourage their fans from becoming emotionally attached to the outdoor field.
The original Empire Stadium, built in 1954 for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, was the reason Vancouver landed a CFL franchise in the same year. At one time, it was Vancouver’s premiere outdoor amphitheatre. Among its many highlights: it was the site of the first televised sports event broadcast live to all of North America (The Miracle Mile) and The Beatles played there in August 1964. After the Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer club moved to BC Place in 1983, Empire Stadium was without tenants and it was demolished 10 years later.
The Leos’ move back to Empire Stadium was necessitated by the forthcoming installation of a retractable roof at the cavernous BC Place stadium in downtown Vancouver. The Whitecaps will also play at Empire Stadium this summer as a result of the renovations.
BC Place is a horrible place to witness a football match or any game for that matter. It can accommodate 60,000 fans but it usually lacks enough people to form even a modest-sized crowd, which might speak more to the state of the CFL than the building itself. The situation is akin to how Torontonians are quick to dismiss SkyDome (a.k.a. Rogers Centre) as a wretched place to see sports that should be played outdoors (thousands of empty seats, pain in the butt to access, uninspiring surroundings). Like SkyDome, BC Place provides about as much atmosphere as a concrete slab possibly can (read: none at all).
As outlined in a recent Vancouver Sun article, due to stringent building and seismic codes, the temporary 27,500-seat coliseum being built on Empire Stadium’s grounds will have a steel-framed, metal-clad roof able to withstand wind and snow loads for many years to come. But in November 2011, it will be dismantled.
Reportedly, the Lions specifically told the structure’s builders to ensure it’s as dull as can be, lest fans realize watching a CFL or soccer game outdoors with a glorious view of the North Shore’s mountains beats the bejeezus out of trying to stay awake inside ugly, stale, barren BC Place.
“They want it to look utilitarian and deliberately low-key,” the co-owner of Clearbrook Iron Works, the Fraser Valley steel fabricating company assembling the structure, told the Sun.
If the Lions and Whitecaps are keeners to return to BC Place in 2011 to play their games, let them! But the teams’ fans ought to encourage other Vancouverites to collectively rally behind permanently resurrecting Empire Stadium and restoring it to its former glory.
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