Where did Investors Group Field's 'bubble' go?

Winnipeg's new stadium was initially going to get a cover over its field, but that plan was cancelled — yet taxpayers still own part of the "bubble."

Winnipeg's new stadium was supposed to come with a dome-like cover

Original plans for Investors Group Field in Winnipeg included the installation of a 'bubble' or inflatable dome that would make the facility usable in the winter. (CBC)

Winnipeg's new stadium was initially going to get a cover over its field, but that plan was cancelled — yet taxpayers still own part of the "bubble."

Not everybody was on-side when local businessman David Asper originally proposed a new stadium for Winnipeg in 2007.

Both the federal and provincial governments were reluctant to grant a private project $40 million apiece and there was public opposition to the plan as well.

An air-supported dome over a football facility in Houston, Texas. A similar 'bubble' would have been in place at Investors Group Field if plans for it went ahead. (Yeadon Air-Supported Structures)
To sweeten the deal, Asper pitched the idea of installing a "bubble" or covered dome that would go over the field for winter use.

In March 2008, local polling firm Probe Research conducted a survey after the bubble concept was announced. Its results showed 49 per cent of respondents strongly supported the deal.

"This figure has risen by six percentage points since it was announced that the stadium plan would be augmented with a partial dome — opening the door for off-season amateur sports clubs and others to use the facility," stated the report from the Probe-Winnipeg Free Press survey.

Asper's dreams of a privately owned football team and a new stadium changed direction and location a number of times, and ultimately the businessman was out and a consortium called BBB Stadium Inc. was in.

BBB Stadium Inc. represents the Winnipeg Football Club, the City of Winnipeg, the Manitoba government and the University of Manitoba. It was created to oversee construction of the facility on the university campus.

Bubble was part of plan

In March 2011, with construction well underway, BBB Stadium Inc. published a request for proposals to "construct an Air Supported Structure" over the field.

CBC News has obtained the construction reports written by a project manager and forwarded to the stakeholders in the stadium project. The "Air Structure" or bubble appears in the documents several times.

In June 2011, "the Air Structure supplier presented their design requirements and recommendations."

A document from a month later states, "The Air Structure vendor will supply all components required for the installation and operation of the structure including duct systems and steel support bases."

Bubble parts arrive in Winnipeg

In November 2011, the bubble parts started to arrive in Winnipeg, and other pieces were being manufactured.

"The air handling units for the Air Structure have been delivered and stored; air-support frame is being fabricated," a note in the construction reports stated.

But the same note in the construction reports offers a warning: "Operationally this structure will represent a challenge to the WFC [Winnipeg Football Club] that needs careful review."

The construction reports go on to outline concerns about the removal of snow on and around the bubble.

However, the design work continued.

In fact, by December 2011, the project team expected the frame for the bubble to be delivered in two weeks, the mechanical installation was being tendered, and the electrical design was well in progress.

By early 2012, the project team had even added a door to the bubble.

But by March 2012, notes in the construction reports regarding the bubble slowed to a trickle, and soon it was being referred to as a "dome."

The last reference in construction reports ever made about the "dome" came in November 2012.

"The province has deducted already [section blanked out] from the dome credit, so I have to wait for…." the document said, with the rest of the statement blanked out.

Money going to North End

Nothing was publicly said by anyone connected to the project about a bubble or its cancellation until this fall, when Premier Greg Selinger said the money set aside for the stadium bubble has been transferred to a future project to build a covered soccer facility somewhere in the north of Winnipeg.

It added up to $1.77 million of the $2-million bubble budget.

BBB Stadium Inc. and the Manitoba government received a request for funding from the Winnipeg Soccer Federation and the Manitoba Soccer Association.

The details of that project have yet to be announced.

Ron Lemieux, Manitoba's minister of tourism, culture, sport and consumer protection, told CBC News that cancelling plans for the stadium bubble was a good move.

"You want to be able to spread that out or spread the wealth out, and if there's going to be a soccer facility, you'd want to make sure that all parts of Winnipeg have a decent facility," he said.

According to a spokesperson for BBB Stadium Inc., some parts of the bubble that were delivered to stadium contractors have been sold.

An air handling unit remains somewhere in Winnipeg and could be for sale. It hasn't been used yet.


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