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New Playland rollercoaster threw PNE amphitheatre project for a loop

Land use conflicts existed between the planned 10,000-seat venue and proposed coaster
Playland's new roller-coaster is expected to cost approximately $10.5 million

Almost five months before they told the public that the budget to build the new PNE amphitheatre had ballooned by 53 per cent, officials behind the project faced a dilemma. 

Vancouver city council unanimously approved increasing the 10,000-seat concert venue’s budget from $64.8 million to $103.7 million on July 12. A staff report cited additional features, market conditions, soil remediation, an archaeological assessment and relocation of an underground pipe.

A February project update for a meeting about the Hastings Park-PNE Master Plan, obtained under freedom of information law, said Playland’s new $9 million launch roller-coaster conflicted with the amphitheatre’s footprint. 

“New coaster has impacts to Festival Plaza, daylighting creek and amphitheatre design vision, thus impacting original approved business case outcomes,” said the presentation. 

It said the $3.5 million allocated for utility infrastructure improvements “may not fully cover design and construction costs for amphitheatre [utility] infrastructure.”

Italy’s Zamperla is building the new launch roller-coaster, expected to be complete by next summer, on the site of the decommissioned Corkscrew Coaster. 

“Land use conflicts exist between amphitheatre and launch coaster designs,” said the presentation. “Options analysis underway. Recommendation to be assessed by steering committee before being presented to PNE board for decision.”

There were three options proposed: rotate the coaster 180 degrees, reduce amphitheatre seating or shift the amphitheatre west.

A March 1 email from strategic business advisory manager Harry Khella to city manager Paul Mochrie and other top officials said the “significant” space conflicts between the amphitheatre and roller-coaster had only recently been identified. A section of the email was censored due to exceptions to the FOI law for advice and recommendations and fear of harming a public body’s finances. Khella’s list of emerging challenges included “funding availabilities.” 

Khella’s March 22 email to PNE management and city hall directors said officials were “reviewing if scope and design changes to the amphitheatre impact business case revenue projections and loan payback.”

Khella wrote that the PNE proposed moving the launch coaster northeastward, but space conflicts with the amphitheatre remained. 

A spokesperson for the PNE said Tuesday that the roller-coaster shift was not as severe as originally thought. However, the roller-coaster’s price tag increased to $10.5 million.

“As part of our final siting of the launch coaster prior to assembly, the decision was made to move it approximately 10 metres northeast to accommodate the footprint of the new amphitheatre,” said Laura Ballance. “As a result we needed some additional site servicing and piling work for the final location that was selected, which cost $1.5 million.”

Labour Day’s PNE Fair-closing Blue Rodeo concert was the last for the existing, 59-year-old amphitheatre. Construction on the new one has yet to begin, but completion is targeted for spring 2026 so that it can be the centrepiece of the city’s FIFA Fan Zone for the 2026 World Cup. 

City hall withheld the business case from the FOI release, but a June 2021 report to council’s Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities said the original concept was developed in 2019. It supported filling the gap in the local live event market by building a venue that could hold between 2,000 and 10,000 spectators with shelter from the rain year-round. It would increase the amount of events outside the annual summer fair period from five to 49 a year with revenue increasing from $1.4 million to $9.7 million annually. 

The financial forecast “showed a strong economic return with a 12-year payback, $49 million 40-year net present value and 9 per cent internal rate of return.” 

In April, the PNE announced it would sell naming rights for the amphitheatre. More than 25 prospective candidates showed interest. Meetings and site inspections were scheduled for bidders from July to September. Nov. 16 is the deadline for bids.