VANCOUVER -- The largest air-supported dome in the world was inflated atop the new 60,000-seat B.C. Place Stadium Sunday with thousands of spectators watching from overpasses, along sidewalks and in nearby buildings.
'It's utterly fantastic,' said a woman -- one of some 1,000 officials, politicians, reporters and guests who gathered to see the 200-ton roof pumped full of air from 16 huge fans. 'It's a great sight, it really is remarkable.'
The teflon-coated fibreglass structure, which sagged to within 20 meters of the field prior to inflation, had billowed into a perfect dome 200 feet above field level in the space of 90 minutes. The 10-acre structure capped Canada's first domed stadium.
B.C. Premier Bill Bennett started the ceremonies by activating one of the fans, while outside thousands gathered under a clear sky on nearby bridges that had been closed to traffic to watch the roof rise into place.
'It's just unreal, just fantastic,' said another spectator. 'I've never seen anything like this. I never thought it would go up so fast.'
'It'll make Vancouver the center of the world,' said one admirer, caught up in the hoopla.
Another man, a sports fan who endured the rain and cold of Empire Stadium for years, said he would 'definitely go and buy some Vancouver Whitecaps tickets now; it makes it worthwhile.'
The stadium, as yet not officially named, is the sixth in the world to have an air-supported dome. Others include the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. A seventh stadium with a similar roof is now under construction in Indianapolis, Ind.
'This is the largest roof in size in the world,' said Louis Van Blankenstein, the director of construction. 'The size of the Canadian football field is the reason the stadium and roof had to be larger.'
The ceremony began with the customary speeches from politicians and construction officials atop a podium located at one end of the stadium.
High-jumper Debbie Brill, representing amateur sport, Al Wilson, B.C. Lions center, and Bob Lenarduzzi, Whitecaps defender, were among the 16 people who ceremonially activated the fans that pumped air from eight large ducts to begin the dome inflation.
Before the dome was infated half-way, hundreds of people began leaving their vantage points to line up at the entrance to the stadium for guided tours that began when the roof was completely raised and lasted throughout the afternoon.
The $126-million stadium, the heart of a 20-year downtown redevelopment called B.C. Place, will open in July 1983 and be the home of the Lions and Whitecaps.
Jim Pattison, owner of the minor league baseball Vancouver Canadians, hopes to attract a major league baseball franchise to Vancouver to use the stadium.
The 1983 Grey Cup game and 1983 NASL Soccer Bowl are scheduled for the stadium.