Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New stadium nearly done

City's long-awaited football shrine likely finished in November

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There's no "mission accomplished" banner flying over Investors Group Field just yet, but the construction of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new home is now expected to wrap in November.

The $190-million football stadium at the University of Manitoba should be substantially completed between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15, officials with the Winnipeg Football Club said this week.

While that's too late for the 2012 Canadian Football League season, the new stadium should be finished in time for the Bombers to vacate Canad Inns Stadium this year and be ready for 2013 in their new home, said Garth Buchko, president and CEO of the football club, and Ossama AbouZeid, the stadium's project manager and a member of the Winnipeg Football Club's board of directors.

With the east-side stands essentially finished and the west side nearing completion, one of the last major components remaining is the construction of the playing surface, a job expected to begin on Sept. 18 and wrap up by Oct. 15, weather permitting, AbouZeid said.

The job involves laying down 60 centimetres of gravel on the playing surface, covering it with 15 cm of rubber pellets and then laying down carpet-like artificial turf on top. Only a disaster will prevent this from getting done early this fall, AbouZeid said.

"To me, a disaster would be if we don't get the field in in October. I don't want to spend the whole winter worrying about the stadium," he said.

Even if Winnipeg experiences a freak early-season blizzard, contractor Stuart Olson Dominion Construction will heat the surface of the new stadium to allow the field to be built during the winter, AbouZeid added.

Along with completing the stands and filling in the field, workers plan to spend the next three weeks finishing administrative offices and several weeks completing luxury suites and the west-side dressing rooms, AbouZeid said.

Most of the work should wrap up by Nov. 1 and all but small jobs will be finished by Nov. 15, he said. Concessions and information-technology systems will be installed early in 2013, Buchko added.

After prematurely announcing the stadium would be ready in time for the 2012 season, the club president was hesitant to say the goal-line is near.

"I'll never guarantee anything anymore, when I'm told it's going to be done. Until I see the turf and I can walk on it, I'll believe it will be completed then," Buchko said. "I've been bit too often the last six months of this job."

One of the tasks still facing the stadium project manager is coming up with a way to ensure the concert capacity of the stadium is as large as possible. In order to attract the largest touring concerts, the new stadium needs to be able to house 35,000 to 45,000 fans, Buchko said.

The stadium design does not allow more than 6,000 or 7,000 concertgoers on the field level to quickly exit the venue, according to building codes, AbouZeid said. In an effort to get that number closer to 10,000, the club is working with True North Sports & Entertainment vice-president Kevin Donnelly and city building-code experts to come up with a solution that may involve the use of temporary stairs to allow fans off the field during concerts, said AbouZeid and Buchko.

Revenue from touring concerts is crucial for the Winnipeg Football Club, which is expected to begin making the first of its annual $4-million stadium-loan repayments to the province in 2013.

The province has fronted at least $160 million of the $190-million price tag for the venue. To pay back the loan, the Winnipeg Football Club is expected to raise $85 million plus interest over the next 40 years from luxury boxes, naming rights, entertainment taxes, facility fees and special events.

The rest of the loan -- $75 million, plus interest -- will be covered by new city and provincial property taxes flowing from the redevelopment of the Canad Inns Stadium site, which has been sold to Polo Park mall owner Cadillac Fairview and Winnipeg developer Shindico. U.S. retailer Target is a potential anchor tenant at the new development.

A provincial grant of $22.5 million and a $7.5-million city of Winnipeg grant will cover the remainder of the stadium's construction cost.

A looming legal dispute over construction delays between the contractor and a structural-steel subcontractor will not affect the overall project cost or the Winnipeg Football Club's ongoing business plan, Buchko said.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 B1

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