The Vancouver Whitecaps, who played in Burnaby before joining Major League Soccer in 2011, want to bring a USL PRO farm team to New Westminster’s Queen’s Park Stadium next year.
The Whitecaps’ partners in this venture are Westbank Corp. CEO Ian Gillespie and Brook Pooni Associates development consultant Gary Pooni, who boasts roots in Queensborough. Gillespie and Pooni’s involvement on the controversial Oakridge Centre redevelopment in Vancouver was criticized in the petition to B.C. Supreme Court by Cedar Party leader Glen Chernen earlier this year.
New Westminster is the geographic centre of the Lower Mainland, close to Burnaby, Surrey and Coquitlam. Having a farm team all the way in North Carolina is simply not viable for the Whitecaps.
But is the refurbishment of aging Queen’s Park Stadium viable for the taxpayers of New Westminster?
“The stadium grandstands have been part of Queen’s Park since 1950 and has capacity to seat about 2,000 people,” said the 2013 Master Plan for Queen’s Park.
The home of the short-lived, New Westminster Frasers of the single-A Northwest League in 1974 had 153 bookings in 2012 (77 by the Premier Baseball League’s Vancouver Cannons, 65 by Northwest Little League and 11 by the K League plus 60 for Royal City Youth Soccer.)
There were studies on the stadium’s future in 2004 and 2007. The Halsall study in 2004 recommended $202,000 repairs for the concrete stands and canopy.
The 2007 RDH study recommended spending $650,000 to maintain the grandstand between 2008 and 2018. RDH suggested knocking down the grandstand and replacing it with seating for 300 to 500 at a cost of $500,000 or removing all or portions of the grandstand for $300,000. It would cost $75,000 on yet another study to consider the future.
“During the Master Plan process, it was strongly supported that the ball fields at Queen’s Park stadium remain as existing,” said the Master Plan. “The field at the stadium is the only long outfield in New Westminster that can accommodate higher-level baseball. The fields are in good condition and this plan recommends that they remain as existing.
“However, input was split on whether the grandstand structure should remain or be removed. There is significant public attachment to the facility related to memories. The grandstand has hosted hundreds of events over the years, including the annual May Day festival.”
New Westminster Baseball president Ron Suffron is adamant that this is not a local soccer-versus-baseball conflict. The two sports have coexisted at Queen’s Park Stadium for decades — soccer in fall and winter, baseball in spring and summer. But the stadium would be reconfigured for the primary use of the USL PRO team in spring and summer. Goodbye, baseball.
“We feel like we’re getting kicked out of our home,” Suffron said.
The lack of transparency is ultimately the biggest issue: How much and who will pay for what? This page on the City of New Westminster website is chock full of public relations talking points, but missing the key information about costs and funding.
“This isn’t soccer against baseball, it’s all about transparency and making this happen in a timely manner, a cost effective manner, and something the constituents want. I don’t think they can make that decision based on the information they have,” Suffron said.
“The councillors have to make a decision for what’s going to be best for the constituents and the best use of their money. That’s the problem, we can’t find out what this is going to cost the taxpayers, or if anything. We’re not getting any answers.”
Neither am I. You can see from the replies below that City of New Westminster is stubbornly withholding all documents about its relationship with the Whitecaps and Gillespie and Pooni after my requests were filed when the Whitecaps’ proposal was made public in July.
New Westminster city hall also claims it has no records about the business case for refurbishment of the stadium. Meanwhile, the next USL PRO season kicks off next March.
I have appealed to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I will keep you posted.