Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New stadium can, must work

The capacity is there; the stakes are very high

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On a sunny afternoon in September 2008, the University of Manitoba signed a letter of intent to house a new Winnipeg football stadium within the sports precinct of its Fort Garry campus.

Four years and nine months later, Investors Group Field opened at the northwest corner of University of Crescent and Chancellor Matheson Road.

Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans could argue that should have been enough time to figure out some means of getting people to and from the new stadium in a somewhat orderly fashion. That, of course, didn't happen on Wednesday, for a variety of reasons.

The football club cites the unexpected willingness of Winnipeggers to take public transit to Bomber games, but that effort likely helped prevent even worse congestion.

Fans can blame the choice of location for the stadium, but Canad Inns Stadium was located in an even more congested area of the city and Pembina Highway, on paper, has a tremendous capacity as a traffic artery.

While the Bombers, the U of M, Winnipeg Transit and police continue to dissect Wednesday's debacle, it appears the transportation chaos wound up being the cumulative result of a series of small bad decisions.

Stopping every driver heading to the U of M campus is inefficient, as any Winnipeg Folk Festival parking-lot attendant could tell you. Given the benefit of hindsight, failing to place experienced police at key traffic checkpoints was another obvious mistake. So was forcing buses to queue up outside the stadium because there was nowhere else for them to go once passengers disembarked.

Another contributing factor was a lack of experience running a major event -- and the absence of continuity at the top of the organizations ultimately in charge of it.

In 2008, when the U of M was chosen as the football club's new home, current Bombers president and CEO Garth Buchko was running a pair of Winnipeg radio stations. Current City of Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, who's also the chairman of BBB Stadium Inc., was the newly recruited director of the city's planning, property and development department.

The entire stadium project was led by lawyer and property developer David Asper, not the Winnipeg Football Club. Subsequent transit, traffic and parking studies were conducted in good faith to the best abilities of all the people involved -- and then implemented up to two years later.

St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, whose ward includes the U of M's Fort Garry campus, endured what he describes as a very frustrating Wednesday night. But he still believes the game-day plan can be salvaged.

"The road capacity was there. The management of the flow was the issue and I think we'll resolve that over the next few days and over the next events," he said Friday.

The Winnipeg Football Club has no choice but to resolve it, as anything other than a radical improvement will result in financial disaster for the Bombers -- and taxpayers by extension.

The football club is on the hook for repaying $95 million of the stadium's $200-million price tag, plus interest. The first priority is a $10-million BBB Stadium loan to purchase advertising ribbons and other stadium amenities added on to the project after the "guaranteed maximum price" was set at $190 million.

Then comes an $85-million stadium-building loan that's currently serviced by the province. The time frame for paying that off was initially pegged at 45 years.

The entire purpose of building this stadium was to provide the Winnipeg Football Club with new revenues and as a result, long-term financial stability. If fans are too annoyed to visit the venue, those revenues won't materialize. That would endanger the non-profit Bombers and serve as a further drain on the taxpayers carrying the loan.

In other words, even if you don't care about football and have no intention of ever visiting Investors Group Field, it's in your best interest for the Bombers to solve their transportation woes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 A3

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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