Mounting stadium debt keeps pushing goalposts further away from taxpayers, Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may have no problem marching down the field this year, but efforts to pay off the debt on their football stadium keep getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

Primary Stadium loan now $199M, up $8M from previous; total stadium spending $265M to date

The debt on the main Investors Group Field construction loan has risen to $199 million, up from $191 million last year. To date, interest charges have exceeded principal payments. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may have no problem marching down the field this year, but efforts to pay off the debt on their football stadium keep getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

Debt on Investors Group Field is piling up faster than taxpayers and the Winnipeg Football Club can pay it off, thanks to lower-than-anticipated principal payments and mounting interest charges.

The slow pace of redeveloping the city's old stadium site in Polo Park is the main culprit, as it's hampered the ability of the city and province to pay back their portion of a $160-million stadium-building loan.

As well, the Winnipeg Football Club has only been able to chip away at their portion of the main stadium loan, because the Bombers first had to pay off a smaller, $10-million private loan.

According to financial statements posted by the University of Manitoba this week, the total debt on the main stadium loan stood at $199 million on March 31, up from $191 million the previous year.

"We certainly expect that the interest is going to grow on the debt, at least in the first few years," said Andrew Konowalchuk, chair of Triple B Stadium, the shell company that manages IGF on behalf of the Winnipeg Football Club, the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba.

The 33,500-seat Investors Group Field opened in 2013 at the U of M's Fort Garry campus. According to a CBC News analysis, approximately $265 million has been spent to date on construction costs, interest payments and repairs to the concrete concourse and other construction deficiencies.

Slow progress at old stadium site

The largest portion of the stadium cost is the primary, $160-million stadium-construction loan, fronted by the province. The city and province are responsible for paying back $75 million plus interest, using property-tax revenue from the former Canad Inns Stadium site in Polo Park.

To date, only $2.97 million worth of property-tax revenue has been applied against this portion of the loan. That's below expectations, because the only structure on the former Canad Inns Stadium site right now is a vacant former Target store.

Shindico Realty is still looking for tenants for the former Canad Inns Stadium site. A former Target store is the sole structure on the land. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)
"We would certainly like to see more development on the former stadium lands to return further [tax] revenue so that we can keep up with our scheduled payments and hopefully exceed them in the future, once there's further development," Konowalchuk said.

"It's certainly possible, but I'm not a land developer or in that business to know the full potential or what the opportunities are for the next few years in terms of development."

The former stadium site is owned by a partnership between Winnipeg's Shindico Realty and Cadillac Fairview, the owner of Polo Park mall. The partnership pays the city and province approximately $1 million a year in stadium-site property taxes, with no discernible revenue generated by the property.

"We are losing much more than they are. We are working diligently," Shindico president and CEO Sandy Shindleman said Thursday via email. "We work every day to expand Manitoba opportunities."

The city and province must pay off their portion of the loan by 2058.

Bombers meeting obligations

For its part, the Winnipeg Football Club is responsible for paying back $85 million plus interest on the main stadium loan. The club has meet three annual obligations of $4.5 million to Triple B Stadium.

However, only $3 million of the $13.5 million has been applied against the provincial stadium-building loan. The club was first required to retire a $10-million CIBC loan that covered additional stadium construction costs, as well as a $1.4-million provincial loan.

Investors Group Field opened in 2013. (CBC)
The CIBC loan was paid off entirely on June 30, Konowalchuk said, adding the Bombers will start paying off a larger portion of the primary construction loan when they make their next $4.5-million payment.

Winnipeg Football Club spokesman Darren Cameron deferred to Konowalchuk when asked for comment. The Bombers are required to pay off their portion of the stadium loan by 2058.

'OK for now'

Konowalchuk said although stadium debt continues to rise, he remains confident it can be retired on schedule.

"We're OK for now," he said. ""I can see the life of the stadium far exceeding the life of the loan, but that would be myself remaining optimistic on the development of the old stadium site."

Konowalchuk also said Triple B Stadium remains confident it can recover $17 million spent to date on concrete repairs and other deficiencies. The shell company remains embroiled in a legal battle with stadium contractor Stuart Olson and architect Ray Wan.

​Next year, the Bombers face an even tougher financial battle, as 2018 is slated to be the first year they're responsible for paying back all the interest on their share of the loan. Up until now, the city and province covered those costs.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.