Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stadium on schedule: Buchko

But after last year, Bombers' CEO making no promises

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While no one's popping champagne corks for a stadium completed a year behind schedule, Investors Group Field is entering what the Winnipeg Football Club describes as the final stage of construction.

The $200-million, 33,500-seat stadium on the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus will unofficially open Sunday, May 26, when about 15,000 members of various Winnipeg church congregations have been invited to take part in an outdoor service that will function as a soft launch for the new sports facility.

The first paid event scheduled at the stadium is the Saturday, June 22 Taylor Swift concert. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are expected to open their home schedule on Thursday, June 27, according to a draft of the Canadian Football League's 2013 schedule.

Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Garth Buchko said he has been given "every assurance" that general contractor Stuart Olson Dominion will have the stadium ready in time for those events.

"I learned a lesson last year about committing to dates," said Buchko, who came under fire for the delay in building the stadium, which he originally promised would be completed by last June.

That opening date was pushed back first to late July, then early September and eventually to this year as the project was hampered by construction problems that are now the subject of litigation between Stuart Olson Dominion and structural-steel subcontractor Structal. The football club also blamed some of the delay on high winds during the winter of 2011-2012.

This year, the Winnipeg Football Club's staff has moved into new offices at Investors Group Field and can watch the construction proceed first-hand, Buchko said. "We get to see the changes on a daily basis," he said.

Currently, those changes include the installation of the final 13,500 seats, a job that began earlier this week.

The west-side luxury boxes are built, furniture is moving into the east-side suites and the new Bomber Store is being stocked in preparation for an opening some time this month, Buchko said.

The Bombers president said he's not aware of any construction problems that would jeopardize what remains of the stadium's construction schedule. There is no basis to rumours about serious issues affecting the venue, he said.

"Stuart Olson Dominion has told me the plan is on track," he said. BBB Stadium chairman Phil Sheegl, who oversees the non-profit organization that owns the facility, said he too has been assured construction is going according to plan.

Buchko disputed a report that the Winnipeg Football Club is no longer vying to host the 2014 Grey Cup.

"The Grey Cup hasn't even been announced for 2014. There's no indication that we won't have it," he said.

The Bombers' business plan calls for revenue from special events such as the Grey Cup to help them repay an $85-million provincial construction loan. On Wednesday, city council approved a plan to allow the club to pay back a separate $10-million loan that covered additional concessions, TVs and ribbon boards before the club tackles the provincial loan.

One of the next steps for the Bombers, the U of M and the city is to complete an event-day plan that will co-ordinate Winnipeg Transit schedules, the direction of motor-vehicle traffic and parking. Details of that plan will be announced this spring, city spokesman Steve West said.

To minimize conflict with university students and staff, most or all Bombers home games in the fall will be held on weekends. Weekday games will continue to be reserved for the summer, when the university is less busy and many Winnipeggers prefer to leave the city on weekends.

The club intends to announce season-ticket numbers within weeks, Buchko said. In the meantime, he invited Winnipeggers to visit the stadium to see the construction progress first-hand.

"If you haven't driven by Investors Group Field, come by and take a look," he said, switching into salesman mode. "Come sit in our new lobby and (buy) season's tickets."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 A3


Updated on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 9:38 AM CST: replaces photo

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