Asper gets stadium-plan extension

Winnipeg business magnate David Asper has been granted a year-long extension on his plan to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Has 2 major U.S. retailers lined up for new development

Winnipeg business magnate David Asper has been granted a year-long extension on his plans to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

CBC News has learned the sports team has agreed to give Asper more time to come up with the $100 million in funding he needs for the project.

Asper announced on Wednesday his intention to reveal plans for a major retail project on the existing site of Canad Inns Stadium, located beside the Polo Park shopping mall.

The money from that development, dubbed The Elms, would help finance the new stadium. Asper also would own the team as part of the deal.

Asper said Thursday, however, that the sluggish economy has forced him to delay his plans.

Despite the setback, the would-be Blue Bombers owner said he's confident the project will go through.

"I guess our stakeholders will be the final determinant of that — our partners, the football club, the province, the city," Asper said.

"I'm prepared to pursue this."

Retail expert doubts extension will be enough

Retail Analyst Robert Warren told CBC News Thursday he feels the still-recovering economy and a play-it-safe attitude among retailers could further delay David Asper's plans.

"A year might be a tad optimistic. Everything I see is saying it's more like a year and a half, 20 months [to] 24 months," Warren said.

Warren speculated about which two major U.S. retailers Asper may have landed to anchor his proposed retail development.

"I'm thinking it's going to be someone in the fashion area, and I'm thinking … J. Crew or Banana Republic," he said.

"We've been looking to bring them to Winnipeg for a while."

He said he has two major U.S.-based retail clients interested in setting up shop at the new development, but he would not disclose who they are.

The Blue Bombers said they didn't have to grant him the extension, but said it was necessary. 

"We'd prefer it be dealt with now as opposed to a year from now," said Blue Bombers chairman Ken Hildahl.

"The economy took a severe downturn 12 to 18 months ago when the original deadlines were first being contemplated. So, we didn't see it as an unreasonable request, given what's happening in the economy," he said.

Memorandum of understanding

In April, the City of Winnipeg agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding to sell the site of the current stadium at market value to Asper's real estate company, Creswin Properties Ltd.

Creswin then declared its ambition to demolish the stadium to make way for the commercial development, which would then help subsidize the building of a $135-million stadium on an eight-hectare site at Chancellor Matheson Drive and University Crescent on the University of Manitoba campus.

The stadium would have 30,000 permanent seats but be able to accommodate 45,000, and be covered by an inflatable dome in winter.

Asper, executive vice-president of Canwest Global Communications and a former Blue Bombers board member, has been trying since September 2006 to buy the Canadian Football League team.

The current memorandum of agreement, which would see him take over the team's reins, depends entirely on Creswin's ability to develop the Polo Park land and finance to the new stadium.

Asper's ownership hopes hinge on the development deal.

When the memorandum was signed, Asper said, he hoped to have the details of the Polo Park plan finalized by October. But last month, Asper said the sluggish economy was hampering his plans to find retailers for the development.

Local developer Shindico, who is also planning work on a three-hectare piece of land occupied by the Winnipeg Arena adjacent to the current Bomber stadium likewise blamed the slow economic and retail sales climate for a possible 16-month delay.

If the development works out and he becomes the new owner of the Bombers, Asper would not be the owner of the new stadium. That would be publicly owned, as it is now.

Asper has committed $100 million in private money to building it. The federal government has pledged $15 million and the Manitoba government is putting up $20 million.

The federal component of the funding will be used exclusively for amateur sports facilities to be constructed as part of the stadium project.

In addition to the stadium, the site will feature a multiplex athletic facility for the university and its sports teams. It will include a refurbished university stadium and new fitness centre.