It was a campaign promise that quickly became the talk of the Surrey election.
“We are going to build an arena that can hold 60,000 people in Surrey. It will be a multi-purpose arena for all sports,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said on Wednesday at an event marking the start of construction. new Cloverdale arena.
McCallum went on to comment by saying Surrey is on track to eclipse Vancouver’s population over the next four or five years, despite the lack of population models to back up the prediction.
He later told The Province newspaper that the arena would be next to the SkyTrain line, surrounded by a park, and that he had spoken to the NHL Canucks hockey team about the possibility of moving in Surrey.
Perhaps in the next few days, McCallum will revise the size of his proposal or the timeline.
Several obstacles, says former Canucks owner
But in the recent history of British Columbia, there is precisely one person with experience overseeing the creation of a brand new multi-purpose stadium that can accommodate more than 10,000 people.
And he was skeptical that McCallum’s promise would work.
“It’s a tall order,” said Arthur Griffiths, who as owner of the Vancouver Canucks built Rogers Arena (then GM Place) for $160 million of his family’s money in the 1990s.
Griffiths said that due to Surrey’s growing population there could eventually be enough people to justify a stadium of this size from an attendance perspective.
But he said there were three major obstacles. The first was the lack of dollars from Surrey-based companies to help fund an arena and pay for the future luxury suites and boxes that are essential to the profitability of modern sports facilities.
“When I built GM Place, it was about location as much as anything else, and location isn’t just where people live, it’s where they work…the dollar business is quite vital for the conviviality of the stadium.”
The second was where the money would come from, given that multi-purpose stadiums with at least 60,000 seats cost between $500 million and $2 billion to build – and that the provincial government owns BC Place, which would be Surrey Stadium’s biggest competitor for business. .
“It’s a matter of ownership,” he said.
But the third, and perhaps most important, is who would play in the stadium. Griffiths ended up pursuing an NBA expansion team, which became the Vancouver Grizzlies, as 40 Canucks games and concerts alone would not provide a strong enough business case for GM Place.
“We knew we instantly had 100 nights [for GM Place]. In Surrey, if you get the BC Lions and Whitecaps alone, you’re still not going to make more than 25.”
Eight weeks before the elections
But McCallum’s comments must also be placed in a political context.
For one thing, it’s election season: the mayor faces four other parties in his bid for another term, and faces a rocky road due to his unsolved criminal charge of mischief and from a myriad of controversies over the past four years.
In 2018, McCallum’s two big promises to bring a SkyTrain to Langley City and give Surrey its own police force dominated the campaign. This has forced rivals to justify why Surrey shouldn’t have the same kind of infrastructure and police force as other big cities. A repetition strategy might be at hand.
McCallum turned those promises into reality. But since then he has had a more uneven record: A claim that he could somehow stop Uber and Lyft drivers from operating in Surrey has been struck down by the province and the Court supreme. A repeated proposal to run a traveling canal through his town came to nothing.
That doesn’t mean McCallum can’t have dreams. But to use a sporting term, it could be considered a Hail Mary pass.
“I love imagination and that kind of stuff,” Griffiths said. “I hope people dream, but it’s not something I could see working, at least on the backbone of the sport.”
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