Bomber stadium leadership up in air

There is a possibilty the Manitoba government could take over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium project.
The proposed stadium's design features angled canopies partially covering the seats and field. ((Photo Courtesy of

There is a possibility the Manitoba government could take over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium project.

David Asper, the businessman who has been spearheading efforts to build a new stadium at the University of Manitoba, told CBC News there is a chance he might bow out of the process entirely.

Asper plans to meet with Premier Greg Selinger and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz next week to decide the best way to proceed with the project in light of the ballooning expenses.

An updated budget was presented Wednesday to the stakeholders in the deal, showing the cost has shot up from $115 million to $160 million. A source close to the project told CBC News about the new numbers on Thursday.

Asper would not confirm the information on Friday.

The proposed new stadium will include an inflatable bubble dome, resembling this covering on a stadium at Harvard University in Boston, that will cover the field in winter so university teams can use it during the CFL off-season. ((Photo courtesy )

But, he said there are two options now on the table when he meets with Selinger and Katz. One, is that his development company, Creswin Properties Ltd. remains involved as one of the funders but is no longer the primary funder; or, the province takes over and the stadium construction becomes a public sector effort.

If the latter option is favoured, Asper said he might step away entirely.

"We'll be discussing that among ourselves," he said. "But there may be other ways that I haven't thought of. If there's another way to accomplish those objectives, I'm all in because I believe this is the right thing to do for our community.

"And I believe it's the right thing to do for the football club."

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger says the new stadium will go ahead, but how it will proceed needs to be worked out.

Asper said the main reason the price has jumped is because construction costs have risen 30 per cent in the past 18 months. But there are other reasons as well, including a plan that now includes 75,000 additional square feet for community use.

Should there is any significant changes to the stadium plan, such as cutbacks to reduce costs, the project must go back to council for approval, Katz said.

"We specifically said here's what we're supporting, here's what they're building, and here's what it cost. If there are changes to that, you start over at council," he said.

Ownership transfer

When the plan was originally announced in early April 2009, Asper had announced he was committing $100 million in private money to the $115-million stadium, which is to be part of a $137.5-million development on campus that includes a multiplex athletic facility for the university and its Bisons sports teams.

In exchange for the funding, Asper was to take over ownership of the team, which has been community-owned since it was founded in 1930. The stadium itself would remain community-owned in perpetuity.

A former Blue Bombers board member, Asper has been trying since September 2006 to buy the team.

The Manitoba government has committed $20 million for the project while the federal government has pledged $15 million to the amateur sports component.

The new 33,000-seat stadium would replace the Bombers' current home, the Canad Inns stadium at Polo Park, which needs more than $50 million in repairs. The new facility would also be able to expand seating to accommodate 40,000 for major events like the Grey Cup.

As part of the city's role in the deal, council declared the Canad Inns Stadium property as surplus, clearing the way for its sale to Asper, who in turn plans to develop it into a luxury retail plaza called The Elms.

Asper hoped that development would generate the $100 million for the stadium project. However, his plaza plans were delayed when he had trouble securing retail clients. He blamed the sluggish economy.

Bridge financing

The plodding progress put the stadium project in doubt, prompting the provincial government in March 2010 to contribute $90-million in bridge financing to get things rolling.

Asper was given until 2016 to pay off the bridge financing. If he did, he was to take ownership of the team.

The ground breaking to start construction on the stadium was held in May and the project will continue as planned, Selinger said.

"It has been a public project from Day 1 and it will continue to be a public project that will have multiple benefits for the community," he said, noting there is a plan in place to pay for the facility should Asper bow out.

"There's revenues that can come off Polo Park commercial purposes and the stadium itself has the potential to generate additional revenue as well," Selinger said.

A provincial official said annual provincial tax revenue expected to be generated from the new stadium site is $19.6 million, while The Elms is forecast to bring in $10.3 million each year.