Make temporary Empire Stadium drab, ugly: BC Lions

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.

Empire Stadium gets a makeover. Photo by Liam Lahey.

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.

And your opinion is …


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3 Responses to Make temporary Empire Stadium drab, ugly: BC Lions

  1. While I agree, it’s a shame they are reportedly dressing the place down, I have to take issue with one of your points.

    The Lions draw crowds of between 25 to 35 thousand a game, and the lower bowl is pretty full. The team has also recently opened the upper deck in some sections, so the crowds aren’t exactly “modest”, and the league is in it’s best shape in a long time despite some issues in Toronto.

    • lahey13 says:

      Fair comment and thanks for doing so. But in my view, a half empty BC Place is a drag compared to what I’m sure will be a sold out Empire Stadium with that gorgeous view of the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, I love CFL football. But Toronto and Vancouver don’t draw fans the way Saskatchewan and Winnipeg do. The Lions and Argos should follow Montreal’s blueprint — get out of the huge, half-empty stadium no one wants to be in & play out of a smaller, outdoor venue they can fill that’s a joy to attend as a fan. Given David Braley owns both the Lions and the Argos, he might do well to reconsider where both clubs are playing.

  2. conductorinblack says:

    I grew up in Regina and returned to my hometown after living in Vancouver for nine years. My first dwelling was in Hastings Sunrise on Rupert Street two blocks south of the former Empire Stadium.

    Having explored the old place just before it was condemned, I really felt that if the original structure had been properly maintained and a safer, saner playing surface had been in place, the BC Lions wouldn’t have had to leave for downtown in the first place.

    While there was no real solution in the early 1980’s to finding a turf design strong enough to stand up to the rainy conditions, the decision to build an air-suspended dome downtown has resulted in a facility with a short shelf life, pitifully obsolete in need of a $600 million dollar, taxpayer tapped “refurbishment”.

    I’ve attended CFL games across Canada and BC Place ranks as my least favorite venue to watch football. What happened in Vancouver should serve as an ominous portent to those in Regina who desire a retrac-to-dome and don’t care how much it could cost. I do think that anyone who goes to see the Lions this year will thouroughly enjoy watching them play at Empire Field in 2010.

    The intimacy, the mountains and an unique experience no longer locked in the past. It may be the best $15 million dollars ever spent in Vancouver sports history and it should prove to be a great reminder to politicians and football fans in both cities that an “edifice complex” approach to stadium construction is no substitute for the best approach to the problem: just keep it simple.

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