Asper makes $65M bid for Blue Bombers

CanWest Global executive David Asper made his play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, proposing to help finance a new stadium in exchange for control of the CFL franchise.

CanWest Global executive David Aspermade his play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,proposing to help finance a new stadium in exchange for control of the CFL franchise.

Asper, executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications and a former Blue Bombers board member, presented his proposalto the club's board of directors in a one-hour meeting Sunday afternoon.

David Asper's proposed $120-million stadium, shown in the architect's rendering, would replace the 54-year-old Canad Inns Stadium. ((Raymond S.C. Wan))

Under the proposal, Asper would contribute a total of $65 million, including $40 million toward building a $120-million new stadium. Asper would also commit to spending $25 million to develop retail projects near the facility.

In return, Asper saidhe would createa new privatecorporation to control the football team. The stadium, meanwhile, would remain a public property.

"I think I'm coming to the table here with a viable plan, a business plan," Asper told reporters outside the meeting Sunday. He described his meeting with the board as "upbeat and positive."

The rest of the money for the stadium would come from the provincial and federal governments.

The proposed stadium, which would be partially covered and have up to 40,000 permanent seats, would be built near the 54-year-old Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg's St. James area.

Asper said he would have it built in two phases, so as not to disrupt the 2007 football season. He would like the new stadium to be built by June 2008, in time for that year's new football season.

David Asper helped save the Blue Bombers from bankruptcy with a debt-relief plan nearly five years ago. (Ken Gigliotti/Canadian Press)

Asper estimates the governments would initially recover about 30 per cent of their investments through construction-related taxes, while the rest would be paid back over six years through taxes from construction and retail operations.

He also estimated his proposal would generate $2.1 million a year in tax revenue for Winnipeg.

Bombers publicly owned

The Blue Bombers team has been community owned for 77 years, and is currently run by a non-profit organization managed by a board of directors.

Asper was co-chair of the successful 2006 Grey Cup festival in the city.

When the Bombers were in financial trouble five years ago with a $5.4-million in debt and declining attendance, Asper helped bail the team out.

He first made his intentions about investing in the team known in September.

The Blue Bombers board will take several weeks to discuss Asper's proposal. While there is no indication so far as to whether the board will accept it, chairman Ken Hildahl said Sunday that he is pleased with Asper's overall vision for the club— even if that vision puts the club into the hands of a private owner.

"We're very much supportive of public ownership, but obviously when you look at a proposal of this magnitude, and potentially any other offers that come forward, I think that as a board we have a responsibility to look at those on behalf of the fans that we represent," Hildahl said.

Asper insisted that with his proposal, the Blue Bombers club would continue to play an important role in the community.

"When you see the vision of the community engagement that I see for this football club going forward, and some of the attributes of actually enhancing the role that the club's played in the community, I hope people will see that I'm serious about this and I'm very serious that this club stay connected to the community," he said Sunday.

Stadium overdue for overhaul: board chair

No other private investors have come up with a plan to replace Canad Inns Stadium, which is entering its 54th year. It currently lacks sufficient space for revenue-generating concessions and is not conducive to hosting non-football events.

Whatever decision the board makes, Hildahl conceded that the stadium is long overdue for some changes.

"It's absolutely critical that we do something with this stadium," Hildahl said Sunday.

"The stadium is well in excess of 50 years old, has, in a lot of areas, outlived its usefulness. So it either calls for a major overhaul or a complete new facility. I don't think it's a question of if, it's a question of when do we do it?"

The team had looked into a new stadium on the Red River Exhibition grounds in 2004, but the proposal wasn't well-received by the city or the province, despite the backing of a feasibility study last year.

Asper said he will wait to hear the board's decision on his proposal before asking the governments to come up with the remaining funding.

"You know, all those people in there are my friends, and I've worked with them and I think there was a very positive spirit," Asper said.