The ambitious Highlanders Football Club needs hundreds of more seats at Bear Mountain stadium to break into the pro leagues, but who will pay remains up in the air.
The Highlanders men’s team, now only two seasons old, is keen to advance from the United Soccer League’s premier development league to a professional division, but the price of that is having a home stadium with at least 2,500 permanent seats.
Bear Mountain stadium, with about 1,100 grandstand and box seats and hundreds of portable seats, can field “close to 2,000” people, reckoned Mike Leskiw with Langford parks.
Highlanders general manger Drew Finerty pegs available seating at about 1,700, while drawing average crowds of about 1,600 to games.
“We find people are not coming because they think there is no place to sit,” Finerty said. “It’s important to have comfortable, high quality seating with this level of sport. It’s going to stop us from moving to the pro level if we don’t have 2,500 seats.”
The Highlanders finished their second season in fourth place in their division, with a 7-6-3 win-loss-tie record.
After underground utility work is completed, grandstands could be added along the northern edge of the stadium and possibly more behind the goal lines.
The City is willing to work with the club to find more portable seats, said Langford Mayor Stew Young, but taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill, at least without a compelling reason.
The Highlanders need to show a clear business case before City money is spent on more temporary or permanent seating, Young said.
“I like the idea of a bigger stadium, but what we have fits the community uses right now,” the mayor said. “If we see more people are going that can’t be accommodated, then that’s something to look at, but its not happening yet.”
Highlanders owner Alex Campbell said talks with Langford over seating are “in flux.”
There hasn’t been much talk over funding, he said, noting that while the Highlanders are an important user of the stadium, they are a tenant of the stadium.
“We felt our numbers go down a bit last year,” Campbell said. “Our research indicates people want a higher percentage of quality seats in the right viewing spot. For us, that means more premium seats between the 18 yard lines.”
Campbell stressed that the Highlanders organization is happy to remain based in Langford at Bear Mountain stadium.
“I think the city and the community are proud to have the Highlanders calling Langford home,” he said. “We’d like to do more to fit in and add value.”