Opinion: Proposed 10,000-seat indoor stadium would catalyze downtown Surrey

Oct 19 2020, 5:36 pm

There is real intent to bring an indoor stadium to Surrey City Centre, and this group is backed by real major operational partners with proven success.

But they have made it clear that they cannot do this alone.

Daily Hive Urbanized has agreed to the group’s request to remain anonymous given that sensitive, high-level discussions and planning are currently in the very preliminary stages. It should be noted that this is completely unrelated to a proposal by another group that does not have backing, as reported in June 2018.

The vision is for a mid-sized, multipurpose indoor stadium with a fixed seating capacity of roughly 10,000 spectators — comparable to the 7,500-seat UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, the 7,000-seat Abbotsford Centre, and the 7,000-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria.

As well, this new facility for Surrey could conceivably include some supplemental convention and meeting space, in addition to the arena for sports events, exhibitions, trade shows, concerts, and special events. The group says there would also be an opportunity to establish the arena as the relocated home for a professional ice hockey team.

Two potential locations for the facility in downtown Surrey are currently being explored, with both of the sites owned by the City of Surrey.

central block surrey city centre

Central Block site next to SkyTrain’s Surrey Central Station and the SFU Surrey campus for the proposed indoor stadium. (Google Maps)

The first location would occupy the footprint of the surface parking lot and bus exchange for SkyTrain’s Surrey Central City Station — wedged between Civic Plaza and Central City.

The municipal government has medium- to long-term plans to redevelop this “Centre Block” site and the recently closed North Surrey Arena and the attached North Surrey Recreation Centre into a high-density, mixed-use redevelopment with over two million sq. ft. of office and retail space, and an expansion of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Surrey campus. The bus exchange would be relocated to an on-street configuration.

Surrey city centre

Conceptual artistic rendering of the Central Block redevelopment in Surrey City Centre, with an off-street bus exchange, towers, and plaza space. (City of Surrey)

Conceivably, an arena could be integrated into the base of these redevelopment plans for towers. Examples of arena facilities integrated with tower development include Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver, and more recently Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Another site option is located to the north, closer to SkyTrain’s Gateway Station. An arena replacing the BC Lions’ training facility could broaden the recreational and sports hub offering of the Whalley Athletic Park precinct.

bc lions training centre surrey

The site of the BC Lions training centre near SkyTrain’s Gateway Station for the proposed indoor stadium. (Google Maps)

The ballpark cost of this indoor stadium is $150 million, but it depends on whether this is part of a mixed-use development or a standalone facility. The parking supply requirements will add another factor to the cost.

Given the obvious public benefits and the complete alignment with the municipal government’s longstanding plan of catalyzing a vibrant city centre, the group is looking for a nominal long-term lease from the municipal government on one of these properties to build the arena.

They are also looking for major contributions from both the provincial and federal governments to establish a financially feasible model, similar to the public-private partnership between the Edmonton Oilers’ owner and the municipal government that made Rogers Place possible.

The group argues that one-time capital costs are easier for governments to absorb compared to ongoing structural operating losses from the complexities of running such a facility. This has been an ongoing issue for Abbotsford Centre, which continues to run in the red, requiring millions of dollars in subsidies.

They believe there is a financially feasible operating model to be found when the government covers the lion’s share of the capital costs, while the experienced private sector entity will be responsible for operations.

When the facility is not being used for revenue-generating opportunities, there could be a guarantee on opening up the arena for community events, not-for-profit groups, arts and cultural organizations, and civic activities.

A potential partnership, especially for the site option next to Surrey Central Station and Central City, could also be established with SFU, providing the university with its first major indoor recreational and spectator venue for its students and varsity teams.

Surrey city centre

Conceptual artistic rendering of the Central Block redevelopment in Surrey City Centre, with an off-street bus exchange, towers, and plaza space. (City of Surrey)

SFU has been keen with growing and transforming its Surrey campus to a size that earns more than just the classification of merely a “satellite campus.” The university intends to turn its hub in Surrey City Centre into a comprehensive urban campus with significant academic and research space that is supported by a wide range of student amenities, services, and residences.

The Surrey campus’ most recent addition, the Sustainability Energy Engineering, was completed in 2019 at a cost of $126 million, with the federal and provincial governments each contributing $45 million.

The BC NDP provincial government, which is expected to be re-elected, based on the latest polls, has shown a strong willingness to invest in SFU Surrey as part of their broader economic plan of stimulating a higher share of the region’s growth within Surrey City Centre.

In October 2019, the provincial government announced the development of a new Quantum Algorithms Institute at the Surrey campus as a “key investment” to grow the Surrey Innovation Corridor. This announcement was paired with a $17 million fund to help support the costs of starting up the SFU institution.

As part of its election platform, the BC NDP promised to establish the province’s second medical school at SFU Surrey to train more doctors and nurses. This is a significant promise that elevates not only the stature of SFU and its Surrey campus but also the overall dynamic of Surrey City Centre.

Through ICBC, the party was also instrumental with the development of the Central City office tower, which created the foundations that led to the creation of the SFU Surrey campus.

home sales

Surrey City Centre. (Shutterstock)

A new indoor stadium is increasingly apparent for Surrey’s next step in progressing as a city. This public benefit serves as a catalyst to attract and sustain a higher degree of retail, restaurants, office space, and hotels within the emerging downtown core, as well as a major added amenity for a complete, high-density, residential community.

The arena’s catchment area would stretch far beyond Surrey City Centre, covering much of eastern Metro Vancouver and the south of Fraser, especially with a site that is adjacent to a station on the region’s growing SkyTrain network. Existing indoor stadium facilities in Langley and Abbotsford, by contrast, suffer from poor regional accessibility.

Moreover, Surrey’s population alone is anticipated to increase by 300,000 people over the next three decades.

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