For Langford, it’s game on for stadium with 8,000 seats

Langford plans to expand Westhills Stadium to 8,000 seats, from 1,718, in what could be a game-changer for outdoor sports in Greater Victoria.

It would put the region in the capacity range of what would be required for the upcoming professional soccer Canadian Premier League, B.C. Lions exhibition CFL games, and for certain international games featuring the Canadian men’s and women’s soccer and rugby teams.

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“It would be a true regional facility,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

“We need this in the region. The metro region is now around 400,000 people and Langford is growing fastest with lots of young families. We are home to Rugby Canada, Golf Canada and Tennis Canada. We are going after sports. If you don’t set the goal, you’ll never do it. Let’s do it. We want to be known as the sports capital. We want to create that style of entertainment here.”

The current largest outdoor stadium in the region is the 5,000-seat Centennial Stadium on the University of Victoria campus.

The biggest stumbling block to expansion of Westhills Stadium has been power poles that stand at the perimeter of the field opposite the grandstand.

“We are working with the province and B.C. Hydro to move the poles,” Young said. “As soon as they are moved, it will be built. It’s going to happen.” He did not state a timeline beyond that.

The cost of the stadium expansion will be about $5 million, Young said.

“We have put money aside in our recreation fund and we work with the development community,” Young said. “We move the red tape and bureaucracy out of the way.”

But that amount of money will only get an unadorned, cookie-cutter-type facility, although washrooms and concessions will be enhanced to handle the larger crowds.

There will also be the matter of parking as the area by the power poles that currently houses parking spots, will be used for expansion of the stadium.

The Victoria Highlanders soccer club of the amateur Premier Development League, who play at Centennial Stadium, said they could make use of the expanded Westhills Stadium in what they hope will be a showcase game each summer against big-name European clubs. The Highlanders attracted 5,735 fans for their friendly in 2014 at Centennial Stadium against Glasgow Rangers.

“We are receiving interest from name European clubs all the time and we hope to have one or two exhibitions, such as the Glasgow Rangers game, each year but you need 6,000 to 8,000 fans out to make any financial sense of it,” said Brett Large, managing director of the Highlanders’ new ownership group. “The 8,000 seats at Westhills is a number that would make that work.”

The Westshore Rebels of the junior B.C. Football Conference also call Westhills Stadium home.

“We are the fastest-growing community in B.C. and a lot of youth sports teams already use the facility [Westhills Stadium] and will continue to into the future,” said Langford Coun. Roger Wade.

The higher end of sport might see the greatest impact. Wade said he was in negotiations with the B.C. Lions to play their CFL games at Westhills Stadium while they were displaced from B.C. Place during the 2015 FIFA women’s soccer World Cup. He said a deal could not be reached at that time because enough seating could not have been added to the far side of the field due to the power poles. “That’s the only thing that killed us from the Lions playing some games here in 2015,” Wade said.

“We need a venue like this [an expanded Westhills Stadium] on the South Island. This is the place to put it. We are working on a way to make it happen and we will. We have a track record. In my 10 years on council, we have built over $60 million in recreation facilities in Langford.”

Rugby Canada has used the existing Westhills Stadium for several national-team Test matches, but only against minnows such as Brazil and Chile. An expanded stadium at its home base in Langford gives Rugby Canada an option to funnel a few of the higher-profile Test matches from venues such as B.C. Place and BMO Field in Toronto.

It would also give Soccer Canada another venue option to host international friendlies in a metro region where the beautiful game has historically been popular and well followed. Greater Victoria has hosted the 2002 FIFA U-19 women’s World Cup at Centennial Stadium and the 2007 FIFA U-20 men’s World Cup with seating added at Royal Athletic Park.

There is also the proposed professional soccer Canadian Premier League set to debut in 2019, with interest shown from groups in Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Fraser Valley, Halifax, Moncton, Quebec City and Mississauga, London and Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario. With several mid-markets, including Fraser Valley, expressing interest, some people are wondering about Greater Victoria.

The Highlanders ownership, however, said it will concentrate on the Premier Development League level for now.

“We are totally aware of the new Canadian pro league, and if they are looking to come to Victoria, we would be open and co-operate,” Large said.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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