Pro soccer plan for New West scores points with residents

City to consult with sports and community groups in coming weeks

A proposal that could see professional soccer come to New Westminster is scoring points with some community members.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the City of New Westminster have signed a memorandum of understanding to work toward launching a United Soccer Leagues (USL) PRO franchise in New Westminster. If the application is successful, the club could launch its first season in March 2015 at Queen’s Park Stadium.

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“Soccer in the Royal City has the highest user base out of all sports being played in our city. It is growing in leaps and bounds, with 1,200 registered team players and with over 2,000 kids participating in our programs year-round,” said Guy Ciprian, president of Royal City Youth Soccer Club. “As the biggest growing sport in our province, we believe that this is great news for soccer in New Westminster, and is very fitting since the first recorded soccer game in the province was recorded on Victoria Day, May 24, 1862, in New Westminster.”

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was at city hall on Tuesday to unveil the plan to the public, along with the Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks, culture and recreation. Two representatives of Royal City Youth Soccer were also in attendance to hear about the proposal.

“This is great news for soccer fans, soccer fans in New West obviously,” said Peter Van Garderen, a member of the Royal City Youth Soccer executive. “Let’s hope it means more facilities. One thing that could happen is the Whitecaps come down and have a great facility and the kids end up peering over the fence of the field. That won’t help the kids. As a soccer fan, that’s fantastic – you can go see games.”

Van Garderen said the community needs to put its “visionary cap” on and see how the proposal can be made to benefit local residents and athletes as well. Ideally, he’d like to see a soccer-specific complex built at Queen’s Park so soccer teams don’t have to compete with other sports groups for field time.

Lenarduzzi said New Westminster is an ideal place for the USL PRO team because it is central and is a vibrant community. While the Whitecaps are “very excited” about the potential of bringing a team to New Westminster, he said other cities have expressed an interest in hosting the team.

Gibson said the city will get to work immediately consulting with the community and sports groups about the proposal for Queen’s Park Stadium, which is currently used by soccer and baseball teams. The Whitecaps are working to a Sept. 15 deadline from the USL to put in their application.

“I know lots of people in the neighbourhood are sports fans. I know a couple who live quite close to Queen’s Park, and they like the sounds of sporting events happening in the park. That is what it is there for,” said David Brett, president of the Queen’s Park Residents’ Association. “Other people are more concerned about impacts from traffic and cars. I think any plan would have to address transport.”

The Queen’s Park Residents’ Association hopes to “get a jump” on the proposal and meet as soon as possible.

“The initial reaction I’ve had from people I’ve talked to has been positive, but we need to get the consultation going as soon as possible,” Brett told The Record. “We are going to get on it.”

Brett, whose home is across the street from Queen’s Park, personally thinks it’s a “great idea” as the stadium is underutilized. He said the main entrance to the park is on First Street at Third Avenue, which is a “kind of relic” of history as McBride Boulevard and the Pattullo Bridge didn’t exist when the part was created.

“It was laid out to face the population centre of New Westminster. Because I live on First Street, I know there is a lot of confused people trying to find out how to get into the park,” he said, noting northbound motorists can’t access  the park from McBride Boulevard. “The way McBride Boulevard and Pattullo Bridge looks today is not how it is going to look in the future. There may be an opportunity to, especially if you have potentially 3,000 people coming to a major sporting event, there may be potential to re-envisage how people get in and out of the park off of McBride. That is pure speculation.”

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