Bombers fans trash traffic, cheer new stadium

As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers began playing their first game inside their new home base, many fans spent hours stuck in traffic as they tried to get to, and from, Investors Group Field.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans were frustrated with the traffic getting to Investors Group Field, but many were impressed with the new stadium itself, the CBC's Alana Cole reports. 1:44
Hundreds of Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans began lining up after Wednesday night's game to wait for shuttle buses outside Investors Group Field. (Alana Cole/CBC)

As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers began playing their first game inside their new home base, many fans spent hours stuck in traffic as they tried to get to, and from, Investors Group Field.

The Bombers took on the Toronto Argonauts in a pre-season CFL game — the first game ever at the new stadium on the University of Manitoba campus.

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The game started at 7 p.m., but traffic along Pembina Highway and on the University of Manitoba campus, where the stadium is located, was backed up well before and after kickoff.

Fans were still streaming into the stadium as late as 8 p.m.

Barney Osadchuk, a season ticket holder for 34 years, said he left his home at 5:30 p.m. and arrived at Investors Group Field at 8 p.m.

"Winnipeg Football Club should be really proud of themselves! They worked extremely hard to screw up a God damn good game," he said.

Transit buses also delayed

Before the game the football club did what it could to anticipate parking problems, encouraging fans to walk, cycle or take buses.

Many shuttles were also ready to transport people from several designated parking lots, so-called "booster lots" at businesses along Pembina Highway.

But coming up to game time none of those options seemed to work. Traffic along Pembina and many feeder routes was backed up for hours.

Why don't they [Bombers] turn around and find a moron to do a little bit of organizing?

Hundreds of frustrated transit passengers opted to get off the buses and walk the rest of the way to the stadium.

"Look at the line-up out here, there's people still coming to the game," Osadchuk said angrily at one point.

"Why don't they [Bombers] turn around and find a moron to do a little bit of organizing?"

As the game ended, hundreds of fans began waiting at bus stops outside the stadium to catch shuttles home.

Some fans remain hopeful the Bombers will come up with a new game plan and resolve the traffic woes, at least s little bit, as the season moves along.

"I think they'll get it figured out. Im holding my pissed-offness for a couple of games because you can't judge them on the first game," said one.

Before and after the game, there were also long lineups at the stadium's bicycle valet area, which hundreds of cyclists used to park their bikes free of charge.

Stadium lauded as 'beautiful'

Fans who did arrive at Investors Group Field said they liked what they saw.

Kerry Sampson, a first-time season ticket holder who was the first fan through the gates at the new stadium, said he was impressed with the facility.

"I think this is a beautiful stadium. It's excellent. I just can't wait to take part in this 2013 season," he said.

"I've seen a lot of football … stadiums and this is probably one of the best ones I've seen. Beautiful."

Fan Andrew Brown was also happy with the new digs.

"It's state of the art. It looks fantastic," he said.

"It's something Winnipeg should be proud of. I think it's put excitment back into the franchise."

Last-minute preparations

New Bomber home

It has been six years since the idea of a new stadium at the University of Manitoba was first raised, and it's been 2½ years since the first beams were raised for construction.

Now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are hosting their first ever CFL pre-season game at Investors Group Field.

Did you go to the game? Take a look out CBC's feature and cast your vote on the stadium experience.

CBC News: Winnipeg was from Investors Group Field in advance of Wednesday's home game. You can watch an on-demand stream of our newscast here.

Earlier on Wednesday, lines on the field were getting a final coat of paint. The 33,422 seats were getting a wipe down. The Rum Hut was being shined up. And about 7,000 hot dogs and 2,500 burgers were stocked and ready to go.

Those last-minute touch-ups have actually been going on for a few days, said senior director of stadium operations Kevin Austin, who wants the turf to look just right.

"On Saturday they started at about 8 o'clock in the morning and they worked until about 4 o'clock in the morning [Sunday]," he said about the crews.

Gerry Ellis, the general manager at Ovations, the catering service at Investors Group Field, said that along with the traditional favourites like hot dogs and burgers, Winnipeggers will be able to chow down on things like poutine, chicken, and gelato.

As well, there's a brand new house burger that Ellis believes will become a favourite.

"What we want to emphasize is that it's cooked fresh here, right off the grill. It gets served off the grill onto a bun and served fresh every time someone orders one," he said.

Parking predicament

People who park on the U of M campus during the day are being told they have to clear out before kick-off.

Judy Amy, a masters of education student, has been told that she and 12 other people in her class have to find somewhere else to park for their class tonight.

That's because many of the parking lots on campus are being reserved for fans on game nights. Even so, that only amounts to about 5,000 spots, which leaves another 29,000 fans searching out spots in the area.

Amy said her professor thought a solution for night classes was being worked on but it never materialized.

"A bus just wouldn't get us there in time, and our professor had been in contact with parking officials and she said she was having a great dialogue and then all of a sudden it just kind of ended," she said.

"So we've had to relocate to a new location."

One of her classmates managed to book a staff room in a school in the St. Vital area for tonight's class. Beyond that, however, things are still up in the air.

Night classes and summer sessions should have been taken into consideration, Amy said.

"I know that the stadium is exciting, it's great, it's great for the city, it's great for the university, but I just think that the powers-that-be need to know that university is just not a 9 to 5 from September to April. It goes beyond that," she said.

Spots for sale

Some entrepreneurial homeowners near the new stadium have been offering parking spots for tonight's exhibition game, posting ads on Kijiji and asking about $20 for temporary use of their driveways.

However, one person is aiming a bit higher, asking for $75. And you still have a 20-minute walk to the stadium.

One church within a few minutes' walk of the field is also hoping to bring in some cash with its parking lot. Soul Sanctuary Church is a seven-minute walk away and is charging $15 per spot.

Joe Kendrick, a spokesman with the church, said the money will go towards its youth groups.

"Once people know about it, it will go right away. I think people are excited; people have talked to our administration," he said.

"Thirty spots isn't a lot but it's so close I think I think people are going to [snap] it up."

But like the problem facing some campus groups and classes, Kendrick said the church will have to move some youth group programming to other spots on game nights to free up the parking.

Fewer tailgate parties

Wednesday's first game at Investors Group Field may be a slightly sad start for some Bombers fans who have held tailgate parties at the old stadium for years.

Jim Lane, who hosted pre-game barbecues in the parking lot of Canad Inns Stadium, said he knew tailgate parties would be fewer and far between since parking was identified as an issue at the new stadium.

Lane said he posted an ad on Kijiji, offering food to homeowners near Investors Group Field if they would host his tailgate party, but there were no serious takers.

"I'm really disappointed because … to me, that's a huge part of the pre-game experience," he said.

"It's kind of two-fold: I've been waiting and waiting to see Bomber football in the new stadium, but then I miss my tailgating."

Lane said a friend of his will have a tailgate party because he has a parking pass, but the party will be short because parking spaces open up only 90 minutes before games.