Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big stadium, big parking fee

Fans grumbling as Bombers nearly double price of season pass for motorists driving to games at Investors Group Field

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Everything will be bigger at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new home, from the size of the replay screens to the number of seats to the cost of a season's worth of parking.

The Winnipeg Football Club is charging $210 this year for a 10-game parking pass for Investors Group Field, the Bombers' 33,422-seat new stadium at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.

In 2012, it cost $112 to park on the lot at Canad Inns Stadium. While the Bombers will make more parking stalls available this year -- approximately 5,350 on the U of M campus versus about 1,100 on the Canad Inns Stadium lot -- some fans are not happy paying almost twice as much for a season's worth of parking.

"I don't think anybody would be. You could go downtown and watch any of the events at the MTS Centre for $10," said John De Decker, a five-year season-ticket holder who may not renew his subscription in 2014.

"How many years were we going to our wonderful, beat-up old stadium and how many of us even paid for parking?" he asked. "I'm sure there are some longer season-ticket holders who are equally unimpressed."

Nevertheless, season-ticket holders have responded positively to an offer to purchase parking passes, said Jim Bell, the Winnipeg Football Club's vice-president and chief operating officer.

The higher price for parking passes will not translate directly to increased revenue for the Bombers, he said, as there will be expenses associated with operating the stadium's event-day plan to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

In hindsight, however, the Bombers should have raised parking-pass prices in five per cent increments in recent years, Bell said.

"In terms of a pure percentage increase, going from $110 to $210 is almost double, but we've probably been below market for a while," he said. "We've endeavoured to get it right at Investors Group Field in year 1 rather than raise the price (several times)."

The question of parking at Investors Group Field has been contentious since 2011, when the city approved the construction of the $200-million facility.

At the time, the preliminary version of an event-day plan for the stadium called for the U of M's Fort Garry campus to be off-limits to any vehicle other than university or Bomber parking-pass holders. It also called for 15 per cent of the stadium crowd to arrive by means other than passenger vehicles, an increase from the five per cent of fans who travelled to Canad Inns Stadium by bus, on foot or on bicycles.

Bell declined to reveal aspects of the final event-day plan, which the Bombers developed in collaboration with Winnipeg Transit and the university. But the plan will involve regular transit routes that terminate at the U of M, special event-day routes, park-and-ride lots along those routes and off-campus parking stalls.

Bell said he expects Bomber fans to grow accustomed to getting in and out of the stadium area after a few games.

"There are going to be a few dress rehearsals," he said, referring to a stadium dry run by church groups on May 26, the Bombers' pre-season tilt against the Toronto Argonauts on June 12 and the Taylor Swift concert on June 22.

"When you're at one stadium for 58 years, you become conditioned, you form your own niche. Some people would walk to the games from River Heights. I grew up in the West End, so I would park on Ashburn or Strathcona and walk over. You become conditioned."

The Bombers' schedule was intended to reduce conflict with the university. Five out of 10 home games this year will take place during the summer, when the university campus is least busy. During the fall, there are two Friday-night games, two Saturday games and one Sunday game.

"There's minimal overlap with the core activities of the university," said U of M spokesman John Danakas. Nonetheless, more than 1,000 parking stalls will be reserved for university business on event days, he said.

The initial version of the event-day plan also called for parking restrictions on streets in neighbourhoods surrounding the university to ensure Bomber fans don't displace residents of Fort Richmond and University Heights.

Fans such as De Decker are eager to see the final plan. "You have a lot of people chomping at the bit," he said. "We know we're going to have a fantastic new facility, (but) they should have had this transportation and parking well thought out ahead of time."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 B1

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