Harvey Oberfeld recently called professional sports teams:
“… the worst corporate welfare bums … trying to get working class British Columbians, through our taxes to subsidize various aspects of their operations.
“And they amazingly get it … even when there isn’t enough money for health care, public transportation, education, paramedics (never forget their still working without a negotated contract), and even housing and services for the disabled.”
Oberfeld is correct. For the latest BC Place renovation, people most deserving of censure are public officials who disregarded fiduciary duties and, without public consultation, tossed hundreds of millions at professional athletes and fawning devotees.
This is an appalling example of fiscal mismanagement. When Premier Campbell and political appointees at PavCo green-lighted the project, either they had no idea of its ultimate cost or they chose to be untruthful about the planned expenditures. Sifting through past statements and press releases, I am convinced that confusion or dishonesty reigned at PavCo, perhaps both.
In 2008, chairman David Podmore, justifying the stadium renovations as part of a considered scheme, said:
“This is exactly how BC Place was planned and built more than 25 years ago.”
Vancouver Sun Business Writer Derrick Penner, interviewed Podmore in January 2010 and reported something quite different:
“…up until Podmore took over as chairman of PavCo in 2007, the stadium was on a path toward demolition.
“However, Podmore …said he was able to make a business case to refurbish BC Place instead.”
Perhaps Podmore was lusting after a favourable write-up from Penner but both of his statements cannot be true. Indeed, contempt for accuracy is rife in most of PavCo’s public statements during its unrestrained spending sprees of recent years. In a style similar to that employed for the Convention Centre, the crown corporation has claimed various totals for the cost of BC Place renovations. The project was originally mooted at $150-million, then $200-million, $365-million, $458-million and finally, $563-million. Despite this, the loyal Vancouver Sun reports the project on-time and on-budget.
With contempt for truth telling demonstrated by Pavco and BC Liberals, no one can have faith in any cost claims until the Auditor General presents a cost report. Here is a journey through past public releases regarding the stadium rebuild.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, January 11, 2007
“PavCo said upgrades are also essential if the stadium is to remain a competitive venue.
“Though client satisfaction remains high and the stadium garnered $33 million for the province in the year ended March 31, 2006 — $3 million over budget — PavCo recognizes that BC Place has room to improve…”
Retractable BC Place roof could cost $150 million, Vancouver Sun, March 6, 2008
“Replacing the inflated roof at BC Place with a retractable one would cost $150 million or more [according to] Peter Fervoy, the business development manager for Minneapolis-based Uni-Systems…
“On Wednesday David Podmore, the chairman of PavCo, confirmed the corporation is exploring replacing the 26-year-old dome with a number of options, including a fabric structure that could include retractable panels. Regardless of whether a new roof system is used or the existing fabric is replaced, PavCo still intends to finish it in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“He would not discuss the cost of a new or replacement roof, saying a feasibility report has not been completed.”
VANCOUVER – Aging B.C. Place Stadium will receive a major facelift to keep the facility viable for the next 30 years, but the centrepiece of the project, a new retractable roof, won’t be installed until after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell lavished praise on the government-owned facility and its benefits, but was laconic when it came to discussing how much the renovations and roof will cost.
”The final budget has not been determined,” Campbell told a news conference Friday. ”We have to look at all the benefits as well as the costs.
”We think it’s important for the taxpayers to get the full and detailed business plan in place.”
It’s estimated a retractable roof will cost at least $150 million.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, May 30, 2008
“As much of the preparatory work on the roof as possible will be done prior to the 2010 games. The remaining work to install the new roof will be completed over an estimated eight months after the games are over. This is exactly how BC Place was planned and built more than 25 years ago,” said PavCo chairman David Podmore.
“By waiting until after 2010 to complete the retractable roof, we’ll get better competitive pricing.”
“…Once we’ve completed our design and planning, we’ll finalize the budget and, subject to provincial government approval, get a fixed price contract with a guaranteed timeline, explained Podmore.”
$65-million reno to ‘add more life’ to aging B.C. Place stadium, Vancouver Province, Sept 5, 2008
“The first $65-million phase of renovations to B.C. Place Stadium began this week.
“The 25-year-old building will see upgrades to concessions, bathrooms and suites. It will get a new coat of paint and have the lighting changed, and will have improved accessibility and directional signage.
“…The work we’re doing now can be comfortably completed before 2010,” said David Podmore, chairman of B.C. Pavilion Corp., (PavCo) the government Crown corporation that runs the stadium.
“It’s work we would do irregardless of the Olympics.”
“A new roof, which will replace the inflatable dome that deflated during a storm in January last year, won’t be installed until after the Olympics. Podmore said the decision not to rush the roof was made to ensure the government got the best value for its investment.
“We know this building can accommodate this particular roof system,” he said. “We know we can do it at a reasonable cost.”
“He was unwilling to divulge the price tag for a new roof, although there have been estimates of up to $200 million.”
$365-million plan for BC Place roof, upgrades approved, Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun, January 10, 2009
“The B.C. government has approved a $365-million plan to update BC Place with interior improvements, seismic upgrades and a retractable roof to open by the summer of 2011.
“…The $365-million price tag announced Friday includes $65 million in interior improvements that have already begun, a $43-million seismic upgrade, maintenance system improvements, a contingency fund and the roof project, which is widely estimated at about $200 million.
BC Place to get $458 million upgrade, Doug Ward & Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun, October 23, 2009
“The B.C. government has given the green light to putting a $458-million retractable roof on BC Place Stadium after the 2010 Olympic Games.
“B.C. Pavilion Corp. chair David Podmore said Friday a fixed-cost contract has been signed with PCL Constructors Canada Inc..
“The price tag includes construction of a temporary facility, probably at the Pacific National Exhibition in east Vancouver, for the B.C. Lions football team and the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team until the new stadium is ready in the summer of 2011.
Deal to pay for new BC Place roof ‘imminent,’ PavCo chairman says, Vancouver Sun, Jan 20, 2010:
“A deal to sell off development rights to land on the west side of BC Place Stadium, which will help pay for the building’s $458-million new roof, is “imminent,” according to BC Pavilion Corp. (PavCo) chairman David Podmore.
“…BC Place was originally completed in 1983 at a cost of $126 million and, up until Podmore took over as chairman of PavCo in 2007, the stadium was on a path toward demolition.
“However, Podmore, who Premier Gordon Campbell brought in to take control of the famously over-budget Vancouver Convention Centre expansion, said he was able to make a business case to refurbish BC Place instead.”
Georgia Straight writer Charlie Smith noted Oberfeld’s wise words and added his own observation:
“The media’s collective amnesia about the rising costs of this megaproject prompted a retired veteran journalist, Harvey Oberfeld, to suggest on his blog that truth has become a “casualty of inexperienced reporters”.
“In this province, circuses always come before bread.”