Surrey Mayor venue plans termed poll gimmick


Canada new stadium proposed for Surrey Image: BC Place

The Mayor of Surrey (British Columbia, Canada), Doug McCallum, has never been shy about thinking big, and with a municipal election on the horizon, he’s talking big.

‘The Province’ stated that recently, during a breaking-ground ceremony in Cloverdale (town center in the City of Surrey, British Columbia) for a new ice arena complex, Doug McCallum said he would like to build a 60,000-seat stadium in Surrey in the coming years – “We are going to build a 60,000-person arena in Surrey. It will be a multiuse arena for all sports. The City is a very big City, we’ll be bigger than Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) in four or five years. We need a sports stadium so we’re going to build a sports stadium in the next few years.”

The other candidates in the race for the City’s top job has ripped apart McCallum stating that his big venue plans is an attempt to gain political mileage.

Despite McCallum’s claim about the City population growth, Metro Vancouver’s own population growth projections don’t see Surrey’s population exceeding the City of Vancouver’s until 2040 at the earliest, not sometime this decade.

‘The Province’ quoted McCallum as stating that the new facility would have to be somewhere on the Expo Line, either on the current line or the extension towards Langley in British Columbia, Canada, since he wanted it to be surrounded by parkland.

He said, “We’re going to do something very unique with it, to protect our environment, this stadium will have a park around it. We won’t have any cars in it, people will have to take SkyTrain or rapid buses.”

He called Surrey a “City of families” and said building a big-league sports stadium would be in line with the other public amenities he’s pushed for since becoming the Mayor again in 2018. The 78-year-old McCallum was previously Mayor from 1996 to 2005.

He added, “We’ve spent a lot of money the last couple of years building new sports facilities and we’re going to continue building sports facilities. We need a big stadium for our big cultural events, we don’t have a place to put them on right now … the last Vaisakhi parade, we had 700,000 people.”

Vaisakhi organizers claimed 500,000 attended the 2019 parade, the last time the event took place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade is an annual event held around the third week of April. It’s a Sikh cultural celebration and one of the Lower Mainland’s largest festival events. In years when it does take place, the parade route begins and finishes at 12885 85th Avenue at Surrey’s Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Temple.

McCallum also suggested that the local movie industry, in particular the South Asian movie industry, could use the stadium as a production facility.

The Mayor said that he hadn’t spoken with other levels of Government yet about possible funding support, including the province which owns the 60,000-capacity BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, but is confident the province and the Federal Government would have interest.

McCallum further stated, “We haven’t approached the province on it, but you’re right, we would probably approach the province for some money and probably the Federal Government. We have worked with those Governments in the past, with the $4 billion SkyTrain extension for instance. We feel confident that they would. I think in order to build it we would have to look at some land that we own that is near the rapid transit line. Because land is fairly expensive now that would be our part that we would give up.”

He continued, “We already have started to put the word out to big companies that are in Surrey, whether they could help fund it or some type of sponsorship. We feel very comfortable after speaking with a number of big corporations that we’d be able to finance it.”

McCallum said in past conversations with the professional Canadian football team BC Lions, he understood that more than 50 percent of their fan base came from Surrey and would thus be keen to visit a stadium much closer to home.

He said they had also talked to the National Hockey League (NHL) team Vancouver Canucks in the past, so perhaps they would be interested in this stadium, though how an ice rink would work in a stadium that would otherwise serve outdoor sports wasn’t clear.

The Mayor stated, “We have talked to the Canucks, the owners of the Canucks, about whether they would put a farm team there, or try some games there, or maybe even move there.”

The announcement caught many by surprise.

Anita Huberman, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Surrey Board of Trade, was skeptical, “It’s an election promise and certainly it’s not in the City of Surrey’s capital plan and certainly I see the City having to spend money to build such a stadium. There’s currently no plan and no consultations. There are other infrastructure needs, this announcement caught us by surprise. A clear, coherent plan needed to be articulated.”

She added, “I might support it, the Surrey Board of Trade might support it … but we want to know how much more property taxes will business have to pay? We need a performing arts center, a convention center. More tourism assets to make our City a destination. We need more hotels. There is no development plan for Surrey. That’s what we need to hear from all of our candidates.”

McCallum’s stadium plan was panned by some of his Mayoral race rivals.

Jinny Sims, Mayoral candidate for Surrey Forward, said the proposal smacks of electioneering – “This seems like a pre-election, get the votes, and make a big promise.”

She added that McCallum doesn’t have a case for a 60,000-seat stadium.

She agreed that Surrey, as the province’s second-largest City, needs more infrastructures, “but a stadium this size? It seems like overreach”.

Surrey First Mayoral candidate Gordie Hogg said he’s surprised McCallum is making a big-budget promise for a stadium no one seems to be clamoring for – “I am amazed he would commit to try to spend money when they don’t have enough for their police force, which they say is high priority.”

Surrey has other more pressing priorities, such as public safety and the need for recreation facilities, added Hogg, not an extravagant new stadium when there is already BC Place in Vancouver.

Longtime Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, who is also running for the City’s top job, said the arena announcement is a distraction from the real issues facing the City – “Right now, the priority on people’s minds is not a 60,000-seat stadium. People are worried about making ends meet.”

The focus, he said, should be to end divisions in the Council and ease the cost of living for residents.

McCallum said that he’d spoken with the Lions owner, Amar Doman, though when wasn’t clear.

Matt Baker, a spokesperson for the Lions, said when asked about McCallum’s announcement, “We had not heard about this but we look forward to hearing more.”

The Lions’ practice facility and team offices are in Surrey but they play their games in downtown Vancouver at the 60,000-seat BC Place Stadium.

The Major League Soccer (MLS) team Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who share BC Place with the Lions, were asked about their response to McCallum’s idea but focused on their current arrangement in their reply.

Axel Schuster, the Major League Soccer team’s CEO and Sporting Director, said in a statement, “We have a great partnership with BC Place and continue to work together in creating a fantastic sporting experience for our fans. We are also looking forward to working with BC Place as Vancouver prepares to be a Host City for the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup™.”

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