PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2007, 12:00am

The inflated roof of the B.C. Place stadium has been a familiar landmark on Vancouver's skyline for years, but it took only minutes to deflate like a ruined souffle after a windstorm tore a panel on the canvas top.

Two decades after Expo 86, the industrial land around B.C. Place has been completely built up. The stadium's roof was always an anchor for that section of downtown.

But after the panel ripped open, the Teflon-coated covering flapped like a white flag in surrender. For the first time since the stadium opened in 1982, officials ordered the whole roof be deflated as rain poured into the football and exhibition arena.

The tear in B.C. Place has now torn open the debate of what should be done in the increasingly gentrified area.

'The roof falling in has bought that conversation to the public - this other public that has the money to attend sports events and go home to their high-end condos,' says Kim Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association.

The conversation has been going on a lot longer among residents confined to living in single-room housing a few blocks east of the stadium, which covers a four-hectare area.

As more condominiums and high-end retail space encroach towards the Chinatown and Downtown Eastside, the people feeling the squeeze are already in the tightest spots.

Mr Kerr says with the Winter Olympics arriving in 2010, more residential hotels and low-income rentals are being bought and turned into upmarket housing.

B.C. Place, which is currently home to the Lions football team, has an important job lined up that no one envisioned back when it was built at a cost of C$123 million (HK$820 million). The 60,000-seat stadium is to host the opening and closing Winter Games ceremonies.

But the fate of B.C. Place is now far from certain, especially with the high-end properties encircling the stadium.

British Columbia's Minister of Tourism, Sports and the Arts, Stan Hagen, said the provincial government, which owns the stadium, was not guaranteeing anything.

'Taxpayers are subsidising the stadium by about C$4 million a year,' he said. 'We'd like to get away from that.'

Developers would like to get their hands on the stadium's valuable land, estimated to be worth up to C$400 million. Vancouver's so-called 'Condo King', Bob Rennie, says he wants to build more than condominiums. 'If it has as high a value as we think it has, depending on the density, there's also commercial use and an office use,' he says. 'If C$100 million went there, that leaves a lot of money to solve some badly needed social housing issues.'

Mr Rennie points out that B.C. Place may be the sensitive middle spot dividing residential Yaletown and Downtown Eastside, but it is also the end point of the city's stylish Robson Street shops.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, a North American Soccer League team, has been hoping to build a new waterfront stadium north of Gastown and there are musings about combining the venue for both the soccer and football teams.

After a two-week repair job, the roof of B.C. Place was re-inflated back into shape on Friday. The flap about the stadium's future is, undoubtedly, just beginning.