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Practice run for stadium

Prayer over pigskin as church service acts as test for Investors Group Field

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A coalition of churches plans to test out Investors Group Field this weekend by taking the new home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on what quite literally will be a dry run.

On Sunday afternoon, the city's new football stadium will play host to 91 church groups, approximately 14,000 worshippers and not a drop of alcohol -- not even the sacramental wine used in Eucharist ceremonies.

The first public event at Investors Group Field will be One Heart Winnipeg, a multi-denominational Christian service that doubles as a test event for the $200-million stadium. While communion wine and communion wafers have been handed out at the MTS Centre at previous One Heart services, the size of the stadium -- and the multitude of churches involved this year -- led organizers to hold off on the sacramental beverages.

"It's not part of everyone's faith, so we didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable," said Amber Anderson Skrabek, one of One Heart Winnipeg's organizers. "This is open to everyone, regardless of affiliation, or absence thereof."

For worshippers, One Heart offers a rare chance to take part in an outdoor Sunday service with Christians who belong to other churches and denominations. For the Winnipeg Football Club, the free service offers a chance to try out several aspects of the new venue's event-day plan, which involves new parking lots, new Winnipeg Transit routes and brand-new security procedures.

The new venue's highly touted new concessions will not be part of the test run. While some cold food and non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase on Sunday, the concessions will not be completed until the Bombers' June 12 pre-season game against the Toronto Argonauts, said Darren Cameron, spokesman for the Winnipeg Football Club.

The Winnipeg Football Club has obtained an interim occupancy permit to host 26,500 people at Investors Group Field, said City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Michelle Bailey.

The venue seats 33,500 for football. The process of issuing a permanent occupancy permit is underway, Bailey said. Events requiring additional seating, such as future Grey Cups, will require temporary occupancy permits.

The new stadium can be expanded to seat 40,000 people on a temporary basis, Cameron said. But it still remains unclear what the maximum capacity will be for when some fans are seated on the field level itself.

Unlike Canad Inns Stadium, which had no south end stands and a field built at ground level, it's not as easy to get concertgoers on and off the field at Investors Group Field. The new venue was designed as a wraparound oval to create a raucous atmosphere for football fans, not maximize the size of concert crowds. It also features a field built below grade, which makes entering and exiting more difficult.

As a result, it's unlikely concerts at Investors Group Field will ever be able to match the attendance at the biggest events held at Canad Inns Stadium, which is in the process of being demolished. In 2009, 46,000 people watched AC/DC at the Polo Park venue, while 50,000 watched U2 in 2011.

But even if the new stadium maxes out at 40,000 people, that should be sufficient to serve the Winnipeg market, True North Sports & Entertainment vice-president Kevin Donnelly said late in 2012, when it became apparent Investors Group Field wouldn't match Canad Inns Stadium's concert capacity.

"The reality is there are not many tours that demand 50,000-seat configurations anymore," Donnelly said.

On average, Winnipeg hosts one stadium-sized show per summer. This year, two are slated for Investors Group Field: Taylor Swift on June 22 and Paul McCartney on Aug. 12.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 A6

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