Money once earmarked for an inflatable winter bubble at Investors Group Field has been redirected toward an indoor-soccer facility proposed for Garden City.
While the move fulfils a 2011 NDP election-campaign promise to build a four-field soccer complex in north Winnipeg, the quiet death of the bubble effectively kills an even earlier pledge to ensure Winnipeg's new football stadium would be used all year instead of just during the warmer months.
The Winnipeg Soccer Federation plans to build a $19.1-million, FIFA-regulation indoor-soccer field on the grounds of Garden City Park, a city-owned greenspace currently home to baseball diamonds, the Garden City Community Centre and the forthcoming Seven Oaks Arena.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Monday the province is prepared to cover one-third of the cost of the new indoor soccer field, which would be similar to an existing facility on the grounds of the University of Manitoba.
Of the province's $6.4-million pledge, $1.8 million will be redirected from Investors Group Field, the new football stadium at the university, used primarily by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and U of M Bisons.
The initial plans for the 33,500-seat stadium called for the playing surface to be covered following the end of the Canadian Football League season to allow amateur sport access to the venue during the winter.
That bubble was characterized as a key selling point for public investment in a new stadium. Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, who would eventually commit a $7.5-million city grant and tens of millions in future Polo Park-area property taxes toward the stadium project, called the bubble idea a "home run" when it was initially floated by Creswin Properties' David Asper, the stadium's original backer.
Early in 2012, however, the Winnipeg Soccer Federation wrote to the province and BBB Stadium -- the non-profit organization responsible for building Investors Group Field -- and asked for the bubble cash to be spent on an indoor-soccer facility on the north side of Winnipeg.
"The soccer federation thought it would be a better use of the money to have a free-standing soccer facility in the North End," Selinger said in an interview. "There seemed to be some concerns about the practicality of the bubble, but the real issue was there is a soccer facility.
"The soccer people themselves think this will have more benefit for kids."
The U of M's indoor-soccer complex, located west of Investors Group Field, is completely booked and there is a huge need for a similar facility on the opposite side of the city, Winnipeg Soccer Federation president Devon Kashton said.
After commissioning a consultant to study location options, Garden City Park was selected as the best of nine potential sites for the new four-plex, based on the ease of transit access to nearby Garden City Shopping Centre, the extension of Chief Peguis Trail and other transportation options, he said.
"We think it's a great investment. This is what the north needs," said Kashton, citing the growth of soccer.
The soccer federation has committed to raising funds to cover one-third of the $19.3-million cost. The city and Ottawa also will be approached to help fund the facility, which would be owned by the City of Winnipeg, Kashton said.
Pending those negotiations, construction could begin next spring and the facility could open in 2015, he said.
The city, however, declined requests to speak to community services manager Clive Wightman. There has been no formal request to access either city land or funding for the project, said city spokesman Steve West.
Kashton said the new Garden City facility could be used for sports other than soccer, citing football, rugby and ultimate frisbee teams as potential users.
But Football Manitoba is disappointed by the cancellation of a winter bubble that would have allowed winter access to Investors Group Field for the Winnipeg Rifles, Manitoba's under-18 Canadian football squad and other football teams.
"The opportunity to extend our programming into the winter has disappeared. We're back to the drawing board," said Ron East, Football Manitoba's executive director. He said he only learned of the bubble's death from a recent Free Press story.
East said several new venues serve soccer, but there isn't a single facility dedicated to Canadian football in the winter.
This forces Football Manitoba to rent expensive space at the Golf Dome or Soccer Spectrum, he added.
East said Football Manitoba doesn't even have priority access to Investors Group Field, claiming mini-university camps are higher up the pecking order.
"This has nothing to do with the Bombers. This is about access to a place to play," he said. "Once the politics is over, what's left is what's left."
Failing to build the football-stadium bubble represents a broken promise for the Selinger government, said Heather Stefanson, the Progressive Conservative critic for amateur sport.
"It seems to me Selinger himself has fumbled the ball on this one," she quipped.
The premier, however, noted the Garden City facility will benefit amateur sport in general.
"Indoor facilities can be used for more than just soccer," he said.