Richmond soccer academy heading for greener indoor pastures

TSS has finally found a new home

Those who loathe the often arduous process of moving will likely spare a thought or two for Colin Elmes.

The co-owner and managing director of TSS Academy, which has called the Sportstown facility on No. 5 Road home for more than a decade and a half, is in the process of shifting the indoor soccer training operation in the coming months to a new, fully enclosed facility that will make up part of the Drummond Club athletic facility being developed in north-east Richmond.

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But when you factor in trying to find a suitable space in the tight and pricey Lower Mainland real estate market that could accommodate scores of soccer players keen on improving their game, the process provided a pretty steep challenge.

“If had known then what I know now, I would have had a heart attack,” said Elmes, who estimated the cost of checking out suitable facilities in and around Metro Vancouver cost upwards of $50,000 before a chance encounter led to a deal to become a major tenant at the Drummond Club, which will also house the Patrick Chan Elite Figure Skating School and a premier badminton centre on Savage Road. Plans for that portion of the privately-run facility were announced last May.

Elmes told the Newsthe partnership group he belongs to that owned the Sportstown site  where TSS operated sold the 4.98 property in 2010 to a developer that will be putting up a 109-unit condo project on the land.

But since the site was not immediately re-zoned to allow re-development to residential when the sale went through, TSS continued to operate at Sportstown along with other groups, including city-run gymnastics programs. And a search for a new home for TSS didn’t get underway, in earnest, until about two years ago.

That led Elmes and the other co-owner of TSS Academy, Brendan Quarry, into areas such as Surrey and Langley. But since many of the soccer academy’s 500 or so users — including 120 full-timers who play for TSS, plus recreational groups (soccer, rugby and lacrosse) that rented out the indoor turf pitches — came from outlying communities, it made sense remain on Lulu Island.

But where?

“When you are requiring clear span space (a building with few roof-supporting obstructions) to properly run not just youth but adult soccer, it was very difficult,” Elmes said. “Then lining that up with a lease rate to allow our business to still thrive was another issue.”

During the search for a new home, Elmes and Quarry viewed many 1970s era warehouse spaces that required significant investment to bring it up to current building codes that permitted assembly use, such as sporting activities.

“Plus, seismic upgrades, all of that stuff, none of the planets lined up well enough, ever,” Elmes said, adding he has a tall pile of documents resulting from fruitless searches.

“We spent $40,000 to $50,000 on nothing,” he said. “I bet we had about 10 projects that started off looking promising, but then didn’t work out.”

But then, last October, a real estate agent helping them in their quest for the right space suggested Elmes and Quarry look at a property on Savage Road in east Richmond.

“I didn’t even realize it was that (Drummond Club) space until we got out there,” Elmes said.

When they walked in the front door, they were pleased by what they saw.

It was a relatively new structure with 20,000-square-feet of open space that had no code or seismic issues. But even more encouraging was the attitude of Dennis Drummond, the developer and former Richmond resident, who was steering the project that bears his name.

“The most interesting part was that about 30 minutes into the chat, Dennis turns to us and said, ‘Look, I am your landlord, but not just your landlord. We’re in business together.’ I walked out of that meeting saying, wow, that wasn’t just about a landowner leasing space,” Elmes said.

Finally, most of the planets had aligned and TSS had a new, albeit slightly smaller, home that will be named the TSS Soccer Centre.

Occupancy is expected by September, which means Elmes will go full circle running TSS during the spring and summer months outdoors at King George Park. “We’ve got enough (park) permits to see us through to September,” he said, adding he will be needing to get out the rain gear for the early months outdoors.

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