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Vancouver's Empire Field reopening slated for fall 2013

Grandstands dismantled last year

There will be no strikers back at Empire Field this summer or next.

Work slowly continues at the former home of the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions, which is behind fences and barriers. The grandstands, provided by Swiss company Nussli, were dismantled last November and December.

The city plans to consult with the public until June, begin construction late this year and complete by fall 2013. Empire Field is earmarked to become the centrepiece of a northeast corner activity precinct that includes greenways, the Leeside skateboarding and graffiti tunnel and the new Plateau Sports Park next to Playlands heritage wooden rollercoaster.

Before B.C. Place Stadium renovations forced the B.C. Lions move to the $14 million temporary stadium in June 2010, B.C. Pavilion Corporation minister Kevin Krueger announced the synthetic turf field and four lighting towers would become civic property.

Artist renderings show the field being expanded with a so-called central access aisle pathway carved down the middle of the north-south field to create two full-size, east-west fields out of the larger space. The fields will be primarily used for soccer and ultimate frisbee.

The four lighting masts remain, but the floodlights were removed. Notes accompanying the rendering said they will be retrofitted with new lights. Two new masts would be installed in the middle. The existing field house and washrooms will remain, but the roof will become a viewing area. A 3.9-metre-wide casual running path is planned for the perimeter, connecting to the greenway system and framed by reforested slopes.

On the north end, a mountain bike stunt area is planned.

On the west, the Plateau Sport Park with space for volleyball courts, croquet, bocce, two basketball courts and a ball hockey, and a resilient surface for parkour, yoga, and tai chi. The set-up will include table tennis tables, adult fitness equipment and a childrens playground. The cost is not apparent. Pacific National Exhibition spokeswoman Laura Ballance referred the Courier to city hall. Hastings Park project manager Dave Hutch was unavailable. Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, who is also the PNE chairman, did not respond to an interview request.

Empire Stadium was built in 1954 as the primary venue for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, which are best-remembered for the Aug. 7, 1954 Miracle Mile won by Englands Roger Bannister. The Lions and original North American Soccer League Whitecaps vacated Empire before the 1983 opening of B.C. Place Stadium. It was finally demolished by 1993. Sport BCs unfulfilled proposal to build a new stadium for amateur sports on the site was a catalyst for the eventual Olympic bid.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation spent $2.9 million to transform the 5.5 hectare site from a parking lot into Empire Bowl in 2003 with two sand-based, irrigated grass soccer fields, two softball diamonds and a gravel running track.

The temporary, 27,500-seat stadium, which included components used at various 2010 Winter Olympics venues, was never put to a public hearing or city council vote.