The city has withdrawn an offer of transit subsidies for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, further souring the relationship between Mayor Sam Katz and Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Wade Miller.
Acting Winnipeg chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi notified the football club via email early Tuesday the city is no longer prepared to offer the Bombers transit subsidies worth approximately $650,000 this year.
Winnipeg Transit recommended the subsidy in April, following five months of talks aimed at reducing the financial burden for the non-profit football club. The Bombers are expected to make a $4.5-million principal-and-interest payment this year on $85 million worth of loans that helped build Investors Group Field, its year-old home at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.
In a statement sent to media shortly after the football club was notified, Joshi suggested the Bombers no longer need assistance due to the club's "robust financial situation" -- a reference to a $2.9-million profit on football operations reported by the club for the 2013 season.
Those operating profits render a transit subsidy unnecessary, Katz told reporters after a monthly meeting of city council wrapped up.
"A lot of members of council thought the Bombers were in serious financial trouble, but that was not the scenario shown on the financial statements," the mayor said.
Katz also claimed the football club declined to meet with two members of council's executive policy committee, adding some councillors stopped pushing for the transit subsidy after the refusal.
Miller refuted Katz's version of the events, claiming city officials insisted upon freezing him out and meeting only with Winnipeg Football Club board members.
"I'm the president and CEO. We have a governance model where I'm responsible for making decisions," Miller said. "I'm willing to meet any time."
Talks between the Bombers and Winnipeg Transit began last fall, when Miller asked the city to find a way to reduce a game-day transportation bill that totalled $1.1 million in 2013 and was slated to rise to $1.25 million this year.
The plan recommended by Winnipeg Transit in a report to council in April would have cost the Bombers about $600,000 this year, or a savings of about $650,000. But a report did not proceed to any committee for approval.
In a letter to members of council dated May 5, Miller claimed Katz's chief of staff had refused calls and emails on the issue. Miller also suggested Katz prevented the transit-subsidy report from reaching the floor of council in retaliation for the Winnipeg Football Club board's refusal to endorse Katz's appointment to represent the city on that board. Katz's appointee is Jeff Rabb, president of Winpark Dorchester Properties and a supporter of the mayor.
"Recent statements made by the mayor about the Winnipeg Football Club and the (game-day transit) program have been more than disappointing," Miller wrote in the letter to council, expressing frustration the issue wasn't resolved before a women's soccer friendly took place at the stadium.
"I have also learned that the mayor never intended to hold a vote last week as his recommended nominee had not yet been voted onto the Winnipeg Football Club board."
Miller declined comment on his accusation and claimed he had no idea why the city withdrew the transit-subsidy proposal.
Katz dismissed the notion the Bomber board's rebuke of the Rabb appointment had anything to do with the transit-subsidy cancellation.
"That's really irrelevant. That has nothing to do with it. I'm not pushing that issue," the mayor said. "They're totally unrelated. One has nothing to do with the other."
However, during Tuesday's council meeting, Katz said the city is reviewing the Bombers' bylaws to see whether the club has the authority to refuse the city's appointee to the board, adding he's not aware that's ever happened before.
When the Bombers played at Canad Inns Stadium near Polo Park, Winnipeg Transit offered free fares to ticket-holders on game day and the city absorbed the cost of those fares along regular routes. About 4,000 people took buses on game day at Canad Inns Stadium.
An average of 10,000 ticket-holders take buses to events at Investors Group Field.
In 2013, the city charged the football club $1.1 million, or about $11 per person, to transport fans to and from events at Investors Group Field. The city intended to increase that rate to $1.25 million, or about $12.50 per person, this year.
The offer issued by the city in April would have reduced all services to $6 per fan, rather than a flat fee. Two regular transit fares are $5.10.