A new kick-off

It was another third and goal, but another deal was struck and the proposed new stadium for the Blue Bombers 

requires another kick-off date. 

Premier Greg Selinger told CJOB  last Wednesday morning the province has  negotiated a new arrangement with the Winnipeg Football Club, David Asper, and the city for the construction of a new stadium for the football club.

“We’re going to get that new stadium built,” the premier told CJOB, “and we’re going to do it in a responsible way.”

Negotiations had been re-initiated months after Asper received a one-year extension of the agreement, because the premier feared $52 million would soon be needed to revamp the aging Canad Inns Stadium at Polo Park. It now costs the football club about $150,000 to $200,000 annually to maintain the old stadium, which opened in 1953. It was said the stadium would have to undergo major repairs as early as 2012 in order to continue operating. 

Essentially, the premier believed renovating the old stadium was a waste of money, time and effort. 

The announcement of a new stadium could also help boost the premier’s and the NDP’s popularity in the next provincial election slated for October 4, 2011.

After years of discussing sites, designs and funding formulas, CanWest Global’s David Asper announced last year that a new 30,000-seat football stadium with the potential to accommodate another 15,000 people would be built at the 

20-acre University of Manitoba site. 

Although full details of the deal had not been announced at press time, it is likely  the same plan from 2009 is in place. 

Asper received a long-term land  lease at the university, a funding commitment from the provincial and federal governments — $20 million and $15 million, respectively, which under the new  deal remains in place. As well, Asper’s Creswin Properties received approval to establish a new retail development at Polo Park called the Elms. The city agreed to sell the Polo Park site to Creswin at fair market value. 

The profits from the Elms are expected to fund the vast majority of the cost for a new stadium. Asper’s property company was to conclude the retail marketing and financing phase of the project at Polo Park before starting construction of the stadium.

A major component of the new deal is that Asper will receive bridge financing from the province of $135 million for the construction of the stadium, which means 

Asper does not have to immediately rely on the Elms.

Asper was also to become the new owner of the Blue Bombers, but the agreement included the creation of a non-profit corporation entitled the Winnipeg Football Club Stakeholders, with two members each on its board from the province, city, the football club and Creswin, a group which would own the stadium while Creswin managed the facility. In the event that Asper’s ownership deal fails, the team would revert back to community ownership.

But along came the recession and a failure to attract retail investors for the old Canad Inns Stadium site. With his inability to attract retail tenants to the extremely valuable Polo Park site, Asper asked for and received a one-year extension to the agreement, a delay which attracted the undivided attention of the premier.

It had been suggested in the media that the province would proceed with a scaled-down $100-million stadium at the university. But, the premier told CJOB on Wednesday, the deal sticks to the original agreement calling for a $135-million facility. Until the stadium is completed, the club will continue to operate as a community-owned organization.

Until Wednesday, Bomber fans were again left wondering about what fate awaited their team. The process had become so volatile that it seemed a stadium will never be built. 

Few argued in the 1950s against a new facility to replace Osborne Stadium, and few have argued against a new facility to replace Canad Inns Stadium.

“While we won’t be able to call the new facility, ‘the House that Jack Built,’” said Asper when the initial agreement was reached a year ago, “one thing is sure — when it happens, it’ll have a new name — ‘the House We all Built.’” 

The first label, of course, is a reference to “Indian Jack” Jacobs, whose stellar passing skills generated attendance 

beyond the capacity of Osborne Stadium, necessitating the construction of the Polo Park stadium.

With the premier’s announcement, uncertainty has been replaced with a level of optimism that the University of Manitoba is where the Bombers will be playing their home games — as will the university’s Bisons football team —  a decision that was accepted by all the major players in the negotiations over a year ago.

The $15 million in federal funding  will be limited to amateur and community sports venues planned as part of the overall development of the university site. Included in the project was the new stadium, a refurbished university stadium and new fitness centre, establishing the University of Manitoba Fort Garry Campus in combination with its other sports facilities as the No. 1 sporting venue in the province.

When the agreement with Asper was struck, the Winnipeg Football Club called it a “better deal for taxpayers” as it represented a “50 per cent reduction in the contribution originally requested.”

“In terms of critical mass, this development will allow us to build on the strengths of the Max Bell Centre, Investors Group Athletic Centre and new indoor soccer complex,” said university president Dr. David Barnard in 2009, “and help transform the university into a year-round sport and recreation destination.”

Under the first agreement, shovels were expected to be in the ground by the spring of 2010 with the bulk of the project completed by the spring of 2011. With the new plan, construction can get underway this summer — only a brief delay under the circumstances. 

The premier has apparently spared football fans another agonizing third and goal.