VANCOUVER, B.C - With the deadline fast approaching for the approval of the Vancouver Whitecaps' preferred location for their new USL PRO team, prominent members of the local community are rallying around the plan.
The Whitecaps signed a Memorandum of Understanding in July with the nearby community of New Westminster, just 12 miles away from their current MLS home at BC Place, marking their intent to launch a USL PRO franchise in time for the 2015 season.
The plan is currently nearing the end of its public consultation phase and while Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi isn't counting any chickens just yet, with the importance of a USL PRO team to Vancouver's future player development, he confirmed that the 'Caps expect to field a side in the league next season no matter what.
"We're still in the process of determining what the support is for the USL bid in New Westminster," Lenarduzzi told reporters at Whitecaps training earlier this week. "We're encouraged by the fact that there seems to be a number of groups that feel that a USL team in New West would be good in general for the community, so we'll continue to work towards a September 15th deadline.
"It's our expectation to be playing next year, whether in New Westminster or elsewhere."
Three of those groups held a joint press conference on Wednesday outlining their support for the Whitecaps' plans to make the historic Queen's Park Stadium in the city their new lower league home.
The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, Queen’s Park Residents’ Association, which represents those living in the residential area immediately adjacent to the stadium, and the city's largest sports organization, Royal City Youth Soccer Club, came together to confirm their support for bringing the Whitecaps USL PRO team to New Westminster.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Member Jamie Woods revealed that a recent survey of their members showed 80% support for the Whitecaps plan.
"[Our members] cited the Whitecaps strong community work throughout their history," Woods told reporters. "The Whitecaps would be a good community partner and would be in the community often. Many of our members also indicated that they are excited by the prospect of having an exciting family outing on game days."
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As with all such projects, some local interest groups have raised concerned with the plans, the most vocal being the baseball association that currently calls Queen's Park Stadium its home.
The city of New Westminster have already committed to building new baseball facilities, and that's a side of the process that the Whitecaps didn't want to be drawn into.
"Ultimately it's the community that will need to determine what is best for the community," Lenarduzzi said. "Our hope is that the decision is made in getting what is best for the community in general and would a refurbished Queen's Park stadium be not only good for the Whitecaps but be good for the people of New Westminster."