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Soccer centre ends up at UBC instead

Originally proposed for Delta's John Oliver Park, Whitecaps' facility finally finds a home on Point Grey campus

Delta has no regrets about not signing a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps that would have seen the professional soccer club build a training centre at John Oliver Park.

Following the Whitecaps' announcement earlier this month that a deal was reached to build a soccer centre at UBC, Coun.

Robert Campbell, who chairs Delta's parks and recreation commission, was asked why a deal never came to fruition here.

"They really didn't offer any community access. We were stuck with them offering times for something like six tournaments a year. They also only wanted to build one artificial turf field and we wanted them to build two," said Campbell.

Several years ago, the municipality and Whitecaps negotiated an ambitious deal for the club to use part of the East Delta park to train its men's and women's senior teams, full-time residency programs, youth teams and visiting teams.

The Whitecaps' $31 million plan included a clubhouse for national and professional players, a training facility and seven fields.

The two sides went so far as to sign a memorandum of understanding.

During the provincial election in 2009, Premier Gordon Campbell made a campaign stop in Delta South to pledge $17.5 million for the project. Also on hand was Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi, who said he was excited a training centre would be built to provide an opportunity in this country for talented young players to develop.

However, the two sides couldn't reach a deal and, by the end of 2010, the proposal had died on the vine.

Last week the Whitecaps and government announced the province would help complete "a world-class soccer development centre" at UBC.

Victoria is partnering with the Whitecaps and the university on construction of the National Soccer Development Centre, which will feature a state-of-the-art fieldhouse as well as five new, refurbished or improved soccer fields.

The government will contribute up to $14.5 million for the centre that "will be a significant community asset, with more than 50 per cent of field time devoted to community use."

The Whitecaps are providing $15 million, while UBC will provide the land. As part of the agreement, the Whitecaps may also request up to a further $3 million from the province in 10 years for artificial turf resurfacing.

Saying UBC is a great location for the Whitecaps, Campbell said he's glad the team appears to be offering significant community time to the playing fields.

"It's a different deal. We were looking at creating new fields, but in this new one it looks like they're taking existing fields and upgrading them and repurposing them. UBC is pretty well tapped out for land for new fields," he said.

Campbell also noted the Whitecaps' refusal to pay for servicing the John Oliver site, which was in the neighbourhood of $1 million, was also a stumbling block between Delta and the soccer club.

Although the deal fell through, Delta was able to reach an agreement with the province to purchase the park outright. Delta had been leasing the site but paid around $700,000 to own it. The lease payments until that point were applied toward the purchase.

Meantime, not much movement has taken place as of late on a new master plan for the 20-hectare (50acre) John Oliver Park.

The plan identifies "improvement areas" with a mix of sporting activities and longer term opportunities to have community-wide, or perhaps even region-wide, activities, explained parks and recreation director Ken Kuntz in an interview last year.

The municipality had acquired four smaller parcels adjacent to the existing site to increase the footprint to allow greater sports field development.

However, improving vehicular access has been a stumbling block as the Ministry of Transportation would not concur with an engineering department plan to make needed changes at the entrance.

Campbell said funding is another issue. He sees the park eventually being upgraded, but it's not high on the priority list at this time.

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