The CFL season doesn't start for another two months, but the blame game for design flaws at Investors Group Field is well underway.
After sitting on the sidelines for the past few months, two major players in the stadium saga -- former BBB Stadium chairman Phil Sheegl and stadium-project founder David Asper -- are back in the trenches, trading blows about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new home.
Sheegl, the City of Winnipeg's former chief administrator, claims Asper and his Creswin Properties handed over flawed and incomplete designs for the 33,500-seat facility that opened one year late in 2013. Sheegl also claims the Selinger government ignored deficiencies in the stadium design when it chose to forge ahead with construction in the months before the 2011 provincial election.
"We had two choices: We could stop with the hole half dug and re-evaluate what we were doing, or we could keep going. And the message was 'keep going,' " Sheegl said in an interview.
Asper, who started the stadium project under the aegis of Creswin Properties, called Sheegl's recollection of the events "very convenient and selective" and suggested the former CAO is "in denial" about his own role in the stadium's construction. "He's just avoiding the reality of having been in the middle of it," Asper said in an interview.
Mayor Sam Katz, Premier Greg Selinger and Sport Minister Ron Lemieux have also entered a fray that began on Tuesday with the discovery of leaky luxury suites at Investors Group Field -- the latest in a series of design problems at the $208.5-million facility.
First, Katz complained stadium design issues were overlooked and claimed the city had nothing to do with them. That prompted Lemieux to note former CAO Sheegl helped oversee stadium construction in his former role as BBB Stadium chairman.
That in turn prompted Sheegl to assert Selinger ordered the project to proceed, even though the four stadium stakeholders -- the city, province, football club and the University of Manitoba -- were told construction should be halted until the plans were completed.
"We knew the plans had problems that needed to be fixed and addressed," said Sheegl, adding provincial appointee Angela Mathieson was BBB's chairwoman in 2010, when the premier gave the order to go ahead.
"I certainly didn't have the money to pay for it. The Bombers didn't have the money to pay for it," he said. "The decision came from one place. Keep going. The decision didn't come from me. There was an election coming in 16 months. A provincial election."
Both Asper and Selinger say all four stakeholders were well aware stadium designs -- created by Winnipeg architect Ray Wan with input from global stadium-planning firm HOK -- were incomplete when BBB Stadium took over the project from Creswin in 2010.
"More work needed to be done, more work was done, and that allowed us to get a high-quality facility," Selinger said in an interview. He also praised Asper for the "tremendous amount of spadework" involved in getting the stadium off the ground.
Asper said city officials were "intimately involved" with the stadium design from the beginning and substantive changes were made after Sheegl took over the role of BBB chairman.
Sheegl was BBB chairman during the period when the winter bubble was jettisoned and other design changes were made on the fly through a process called "value engineering," during which construction managers try to shave costs to meet a budget target.
Asper suggested members of city council were responsible for fan amenities disappearing from the project. Asper said when he proposed removing an overhead canopy from the stadium design to combat rising costs, Katz demanded the canopy remain.
Bomber fans would have preferred more legroom, more washrooms, wider concessions areas and a better game-day experience, he said.
Asper also commended Selinger for moving forward with the project before the cost of steel continued to rise and chided Sheegl for suggesting the premier was in a hurry.
"To try to point an accusatory finger at the province? Mine is a congratulatory view," Asper said. "It took a lot of guts to move things forward, and we should be thankful for it."
Construction had to proceed because of safety concerns with Canad Inns Stadium, Selinger added.
"We were all working together. We had serious reports about the safety of the old stadium," the premier said. "Everybody wanted to move forward on this."
Asper developed the initial stadium plans as part of an effort to purchase the Winnipeg Football Club and finance the project through a retail development at the Canad Inns Stadium site in Polo Park. When that died on the vine, the province stepped in and loaned the football club $160 million to build the stadium, with BBB Stadium taking over the construction.
As part of the transition, Asper was paid $4 million in compensation for his expenditures on the stadium plans. The Bombers, meanwhile, hired chief transition officer Jeff Thompson and construction expert Ossama AbouZeid to oversee the stadium project. They in turn hired Global Spectrum Canada, a firm specializing in public venues, to review the stadium plans.
"Global Spectrum comes and says, 'OK, there are things that aren't quite right that we think need to be addressed, (like) getting vehicles in to hold concerts on the main floor, the press box, operational shortfalls," Sheegl said. "That was presented to the Bombers board and the message was to keep going."
Before the stadium opened, all the handrails had to be replaced, while crews were forced to cut squares out of the lower-bowl concrete to allow fans access to the playing surface during concerts. Problems identified later included leaky luxury suites, uninsulated plumbing, crawl spaces unprotected from fire and a press box open to the elements.
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