Exclusive: BC Place renovation final costs were five times original budget

The cost to renovate BC Place Stadium ended up five times higher than the figure B.C. Pavilion Corp. (PavCo) originally estimated, it has emerged – ...

The cost to renovate BC Place Stadium ended up five times higher than the figure B.C. Pavilion Corp. (PavCo) originally estimated, it has emerged – a much greater rise than the less-than-double budget increase previously reported.

"In order for BC Place to remain over the long term, major improvements and upgrading are necessary," wrote PavCo's then-chairman David Podmore in a confidential January 2008 letter to Vancouver's city manager Judy Rogers. "The scope of the rehabilitation project is in the order of $100 million, which includes replacement of the roof."

The government's first publicized budget for the project was $365 million, announced in January 2009. In August 2012, the government announced that the final price of the taxpayer-funded project was $514 million.

Podmore's letter, obtained via Freedom of Information by blogger Ian Reid, was written January 22, 2008, to ask for city council to agree in principle to 1.5 million square feet of new, mostly commercial, development on PavCo property surrounding the stadium. Revenue from the sale or lease of land was intended to help offset the cost of the stadium project.

The city council agreed to the amendments in 2008 but, in 2011, rejected a PavCo-supported proposal for Paragon Gaming to build Western Canada's biggest casino–hotel complex on leased land west side of the stadium.

"I think the public will be outraged, that they tried to claim up to the end that it was on time and on budget," NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert told Business in Vancouver. "They have still not provided any convincing business case – any business case, really – to show that the BC Place roof project was the best value for taxpayers."

Podmore resigned as chairman in September 2012, while PavCo continued talks with Paragon to build a smaller complex to house the existing Edgewater Casino licence.

After Gregor Robertson was sworn in as mayor in December 2008, city manager Rogers was fired, given a $571,000 severance and replaced by Penny Ballem.

The cost of renovation and application of a retractable roof more than doubled by April 2008, when a PavCo internal report pegged the cost at $253 million, but delayed the lion's share of work until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. The government announced the $365 million budget in January 2009, but it was increased to $563 million by year-end.

Last August, the provincial government said the completed project cost $514 million, but has refused to disclose the size of its payment to Telus for supplying telecommunications and technology goods and services. A $35-40 million naming rights sponsorship agreement with Telus was cancelled last February by the government, and the government has since awarded Telus a conciliatory telecoms deal.

"[The news of the original budget] floored me," Chandra Herbert said. "I had both the Minister [Pat Bell] and David Podmore criticize me publicly for saying the Liberals had gone massively over budget when I was referring to going from $365 million to over $500 million, when little did I know."

One of the most complex stadium renovations in history was prompted by the January 5, 2007, rip and collapse of the original, inflated fabric roof. The roof was not heated during the cold, snowy morning. A sudden spike in air pressure caused an avalanche of snow, ice and slush that cut through a panel on the west side of the roof. It was patched and reinflated two weeks later.



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