Why (and how) Langley Township will spend $154 million on four soccer fields

Langley Township wants to build a major new soccer campus that would be home to the region's youngest soccer players. But it won’t come cheap.

Langley is a soccer town. 

That’s how Marcel Horn, executive director of Langley’s main youth soccer organization, Langley United, describes it when he talks about how fast enrolment in the club’s different teams is growing. Three times more people play soccer in the region than play baseball, field hockey, and lacrosse put together, Horn said.

But Langley doesn’t currently have the field space to be the soccer paradise Horn knows it wants to be. Langley United turned away more than 600 kids last year. 

That may all be about to change—though more fields will come with a nine-figure price tag. 

Langley Township’s politicians seem eager and willing to pay the cost—but first they need to see how many residents are opposed to spending $150 million for a huge new soccer complex. 

The township has sketched out plans for a huge new soccer park in Willoughby that would vastly exceed other facilities in the region. It will include four synthetic turf soccer fields—one of them indoors. That indoor field’s building will also house offices for Langley United, along with meeting and training rooms. The facility would also include an underground parking facility 

The promise

The soccer complex was originally promised by then-mayoral candidate Eric Woodward and his Contract With Langley slate during the 2022 municipal election campaign.

Woodward told Langley residents that he and his slate would avoid infrastructure mistakes of the past that required “catch-up” youth sports facilities in the community. 

A month before the 2022 election, Woodward promised a specific soccer park plan: one with four synthetic turf fields (including one indoor field). Conversations with Langley United, which will be the main user group at the park and a financial contributor to the project, led to that sketch. 

“Our youth deserve great facilities just like other communities have. Why not here in Langley too?” Woodward asked in the Facebook post. 

Facebook posts leading up to the election in October also pledged that the cost of the  field complex won’t be a problem for either parents or taxpayers in general. Parents of players won’t be charged extra fees for the use of the new park to offset construction costs, Woodward said. 

The plan outlined during the election also addressed how Woodward wanted to pay for the project. Property taxes wouldn’t climb to support the expense. Instead, fees that developers pay to the township as they build more housing would cover the expense for the park.

“Growth can and should pay for growth,” Woodward wrote that autumn.

The money

But the anticipated cost for the project has risen dramatically in the past year and it now looks like growth will pay for some, but not all, of the soccer project. The project was originally announced with a price tag of $40 million. In this year’s budget, the cost for the project was listed at $100 million. Now, council documents list the budget for the project at more than $154 million.

The largest pieces of the park are the $63 million indoor turf field and building, the $31 million for the three outdoor turf field, and the $22 million required to prepare the site. Building parking—and the roads that the park will be accessed from—will cost another few million. A large portion of the infrastructure that will be built under the park could also serve the site of a future high school.

Currently, developer contributions are slated to pay for a large portion of the $154.7 million for the park, though the exact amount isn’t certain yet. Langley United is planning to pay a few million (the exact figure isn’t set yet, Horn said). The school district might also chip in a couple million more. 

Developers who rezone land and construct new homes and neighbourhoods in Langley are required to pay fees to help pay for the city infrastructure that will serve those new residents. These payments, in the form of community amenity contributions and development cost charges, go into buckets that cities can use to pay for related infrastructure improvements—like a mega soccer park. 

But the township is not expecting to completely avoid paying for the soccer park.

The municipality is planning to borrow $58.9 million to contribute to the construction of the park. To do so, it will need permission from the township’s residents, though a referendum won’t be used. Instead the Township will use a complicated—and sometimes controversial—system.

Two portions of the planned loan—one for about $19.7 million for site preparation specifically, and one for about $30 million for development capital—will be subject to “an alternate approval process.” The process is an often-used but somewhat complicated system that lets municipalities get elector “approval” without a full referendum (or anyone registering their actual approval of a project. Instead of voting for or against a particular project, dissatisfied residents have 30 days to lodge their disapproval of the loan with their municipality. If 10% of voters register against a project, the city will have to hold a full referendum to get the approval it needs.

The alternative approval process for the two loans currently planned for the park will end on June 30.

Not all synthetic turf soccer parks are this ambitious—or this expensive. A large synthetic turf field cost $4.9 million in Nova Scotia to construct this year. Converting an old gravel pit in Port Moody into a soccer pitch cost $6.9 million last summer. Building indoor turf fields, though, is expensive elsewhere, too: a $44 million indoor field in Thunder Bay, Ontario was tied up last fall as councillors tried to find ways to cut back on the cost.

The vision

Horn calls the new soccer park the grassroots campus. 

It might not be the official name for the new series of fields, but it’s how the club and advocates have referred to the plan since its inception more than five years ago. The club envisions a dedicated space for the region’s youngest teams, from the under-four-year-old groups to the 10 year olds. The pre-teens and teens will keep playing at the Langley Events Centre. 

The hope is that the park will fill the club’s need for more field space so it can stop turning kids away and have good fields for them all to play on. As Langley continues to grow, enrolment for the club has been shooting up quickly too. Despite the cost of the new complex, Horn said that the association was not at all concerned that the costs would be passed on to players or their families. 

“The problem that we've had as a club over the last five years, we went from 1,100 members, 1,500 members, 4,000 members, to 6,000,” Horn said. Real grass gets waterlogged quickly and doesn’t hold up well to heavy use, he said, and there aren’t enough synthetic turf fields for all the players who want to play in Langley. 

But population growth isn’t the only thing driving the club’s rising enrolment. Increasing expenses for families in general and a tougher economy are also sending more sporty kids onto soccer teams.

“In soccer, as a sport, for a barrier of entry for parents, especially in the economy that we're fighting through, is the least expensive, most accessible sport in the world.” Horn said.

The importance of places to play organized sports like soccer, Horn said, shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s not only good for kids and their families. It’s good for the future of the community, too.

Kids who are bored at home, Horn said, can find all kinds of trouble. 

“You can lose aspiration quickly. Whereas, if you get out in the field, you’re in a team environment. You learn cohesive growth and self-value,” he said.

“It's a totally different investment that we're making into our future citizens by building out that open space.”

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