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Vancouver comes aboard
by Ridge Mahoney, March 18th, 2009 7AM
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Finally, MLS has docked in Vancouver.

Commissioner Don Garber flew to the Canadian city Tuesday to wrap up final details and attend a press conference Wednesday to announce Vancouver will join MLS as the league's 17th franchise in 2011.

Lead investors Greg Kerfoot and Steve Luzco head a group that includes NBA star Steve Nash and former Yahoo! executive Jeff Mallett as minority partners. The team, expected to use the same Whitecaps nickname as the current USL-1 team as well as a former NASL franchise, is to play in a renovated B.C. Place.

A proposal to build a new facility on the city's waterfront has been stalled for more than a year, but MLS officials, including Garber, have inspected plans  to renovate B.C. Place, which seats 60,000, and approved the facility. It will be renovated in time to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a retractable roof is in the plans for MLS operations in 2011.

A section of an air-supported dome, the largest in the world when it was built, collapsed in a heavy snowfall in January 2007. It will be replaced by the retractable roof, and a grass field will replace the current synthetic surface.

Renovations will be funded by the British Colombia government. Estimated costs are $365 million Canadian (approximately U.S. $292 million), with more than half of that sum earmarked for the new roof.

Kerfoot, who built his software company Crystal Decisions into a worldwide operation that employed more than 2,000 people, is chairman of the Whitecaps. Luzco is chairman, president and CEO of Seagate Technology, a manufacturer of hard drives and data storage elements. Nash played soccer as a youth and has also invested in the WPS, along with Mallett, a Vancouver native who was approached by MLS during his time at Yahoo! but decided not to invest in the San Jose Earthquakes.

The announcement comes after years of discussions and talks in Vancouver regarding its entry into MLS and efforts to build a waterfront stadium. An impasse between Kerfoot, who is willing to pay for the stadium himself, and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority over a proposed land exchange has stymied progress.

Garber declined comment on the Vancouver situation with the official announcement pending, and on another expansion subject, expressed confidence Portland bidder Merritt Paulson and MLS would find a way to fill a $15 million shortfall left when the city council adopted an amendment removing one of the funding mechanisms.

The city council last week approved a proposal to renovate PG&E Park for the MLS team and build a new downtown stadium for the minor-league baseball team at a combined cost of more than $88 million.

"This league believes in rivalries," said Garber, "and with tickets selling so well in Seattle, we think opening up the Northwest with Vancouver and possibly Portland is the way to go."

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