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The big idea
Apr 13, 2007

David Asper and Leo Ledohowski certainly have resurrected the concept of the “big idea” while at the same time inspiring Winnipeggers to once again believe that their hometown is a “can-do” city. 

Whether they succeed in realizing either of their proposed “big ideas” is not relevant at this stage — what is important is that they have stepped forward and offered possible solutions to replacing the old stadium with a new facility to house the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. 

Because of their efforts, the need for a new stadium has appeared on the front pages of newspapers and has been the lead item on local TV and radio news broadcasts. As well, their stadium proposals are being discussed at coffee shops and in sports bars.

Ledohowski, the president and CEO of Canad Inns, is on a bit of a roll. Just this week, he announced that the new 200-guest Four Star Canad Certified Hotel Tower in Grand Forks will open on May 1. One can imagine that success has bred enthusiasm to the point that he believes no project is beyond his capacity, hence the announcement of his “big idea” to replace aging Canad Inn Stadium, the existing home of the Blue Bombers which opened in 1953.

Ledohowski has truly come up with a “big idea.” He has proposed a $520-million plan to build a new domed stadium on the former 180-acre Public Markets Site (the former Canada Packers site which has been laying idle for 25 years) in St. Boniface, which he recently acquired for $1 million from the city, and to redevelop the existing home of the Bombers on Maroons Road in Polo Park into a commercial development. 

According to a press release, Ledohowski said the domed football stadium will cost $265 million, development of retail space on the St. Boniface site will cost another $150 million and a 200-room hotel and 50,000-square-foot indoor water park on the property will cost $50 million.

Ledohowski said his plan also includes the $55-million commercial redevelopment of the Polo Park site into Blue Bomber Plaza. The Canad Inns president and CEO said the Blue Bomber Plaza would be turned over to the football club while his company would develop and manage the site. 

The plan is to hand over the domed stadium to the football club to ensure community ownership of the Bombers continues.

This is a departure from the Asper plan for a new $145-million, 30,000 to 40,000-seat stadium/retail complex at Polo Park. The CanWest Global executive vice-president said his plan calls for private  ownership of the football club, ending nearly 77 years of community ownership.

Asper said private ownership is essential “in order to maximize revenue streams.” 

It is presumed that Ledohowski’s plan has no similar concern with “revenue streams” flowing in  the appropriate directions and is content to allow the football club to operate as usual. 

“This proposal represents an innovative public-private partnership approach,” said Ledohowski. “The land title for Blue Bomber Plaza and the new stadium will rest with the city of Winnipeg; the use and ownership of the public facilities will rest with the Blue Bombers and the private facilities (e.g., hotel, indoor water park and retail space at St. Boniface) will be owned by Canad Inns.”

The details as to how “revenue streams” will flow into Canad Inns and ensure the financial health of the football club are still sketchy. Ledohowski said a $41-million difference in the capital cost source of funds is preliminary and details of the budget numbers will be refined as the process continues. The initial forecasts show the business model will work, he added.

In total, Canad Inns would be putting up $200 million for the hotel, water park and retail facilities in St. Boniface and $55 million for the Polo Park redevelopment; this  includes demolishing the old stadium after the new domed stadium is completed.

But to make either plan work, governments are being asked to step up to the plate.

Asper wants to lease the 26-acre Polo Park site rent-free. The land and facilities now have an assessed value of $15.7 million, making it one of the more valuable pieces of property in the city.

Ledohowski wants the city to forego $29 million in property taxes at the Polo Park site for 15 years.

Both Ledohowski and Asper are calling upon the federal and provincial governments to each kick in $40 million to make their “big ideas” come true.

“We believe we have a great proposal — and we are confident the football club will carefully and diligently review all proposals and come to the same  conclusion,” said Ledohowski.

When the Asper proposal was announced, Premier Gary Doer said no figure for a government contribution is cut in stone. If the football club accepts a proposal, the provincial government can then negotiate its contribution just as it did when the $133.5-million MTS Centre was built by True North. All three levels of government ended up contributing a total of $37 million to the cost of the arena complex.

Ledohowski has a problem when it comes to negotiating with the province. Doer is peeved that the stadium advocate didn’t give the province a copy of the plan prior to the announcement. In fact, Ledohowski failed to consult with either the city or province about his intentions.

It should also be noted that True North will have a say in any new stadium since it signed a non-competition deal with the city and province that doesn’t allow another sports or entertainment venue to vie with the MTS Centre for events.

Another problem is the publicly-owned Winnipeg Convention Centre whose board is somewhat miffed that the Ledohowski plan for the stadium includes the potential to double as the 280,000-square-foot convention centre.

A third plan with some form of public-private partnership is also in the works, but the football club has yet to announce the principles involved and other details.

There are still plenty of details to be worked out — it can’t be assured that any stadium plan will be go ahead because there are so many factors involved. However, it’s reassuring that the ”big idea” is alive and well in this city and province.