VANCOUVER -- Shortly after updating its private suites and concessions in the first phase of a major renovation, BC Place hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The global events were a landmark for the city. But for Vancouver's largest local venue, the best was yet to come.
Following the Olympics, the stadium was shut down to undergo the second and final phase of its reconstruction. When that was completed in 2011, the original building was replaced by a revitalized, state-of-the-art facility. That building will be on full display Sunday when it plays host to the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"We have an amazing retractable roof you can actually color to reflect the event you have in the building," said Graham Ramsey, BC Place director of sales and marketing. "For example, when we hosted Paul McCartney here last year we did a large Union Jack on the roof, so when he was flying in to Vancouver he looked at BC Place and saw the Union Jack. You'll see some of that leading up to the Classic here in Vancouver."
Ramsay certainly can appreciate the improved BC Place. He started working in the building part-time as an usher shortly after it opened in 1983. Sporting an air-supported bubble dome that could not be opened, the building hosted a series of events throughout the years and always has been the home field for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. The stadium has about 53,000 seats, the world's largest cable-supported retractable roof and second-largest high-definition video scoreboard, after AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The old BC Place literally and figuratively is a shell of its old self.
"The engineers looked at the building and their comment was, 'It's got great bones.' So we had a really strong infrastructure," Ramsay said. "The decision to renovate and revitalize gave another 20 years to this building. More importantly, the cost to rebuild was estimated in excess of $1 billion."
The final price tag came in at $514 million, a sizable cost but half the original estimate for a brand-new stadium. And it wasn't long before the building became a hive of activity with concerts, trade shows and home games for the Lions, as well as the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
"Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, we are hosting the FIFA Women's World Cup final. We will have the Grey Cup here again this year," Ramsay said. "So we have between 220 and 260 occupancy days a year. A very busy building right in downtown Vancouver."
Between the concerts, sporting events and trade shows, including the BC Home and Garden show, which moved out of BC Place just as the Heritage Classic ice crew was moving in, the building never has hosted hockey. That is until now.
That's remarkable considering the rabid local fan support for the Vancouver Canucks, who will host the Ottawa Senators on March 2. But it wasn't long after the BC Place renovation was completed that the building began discussions with the NHL and the Canucks about hosting the Heritage Classic. All that work will culminate in the big game Sunday. And it's expected to be a major milestone in a building that already has made its mark during the past 30 years.
"We've hosted baseball, Canadian football, MLS. We've had basketball in here. This is the one sport we haven't had, so to have hockey in here is a dream come true for our guests, our fans and all of us," Ramsay said. "Everyone will look at the building and what we can do with the building. To say that we hosted an NHL regular-season game in this building is outstanding."