Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selinger grabs ball on stadium

Sources say deal near to go ahead with new, scaled-down facility

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Premier Greg Selinger has stepped in to ensure a new home for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be built at the University of Manitoba, in spite of the delays experienced by David Asper's Creswin Properties.

Sources confirmed late Friday Selinger, Creswin, the City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa are close to hammering out a new deal to build a scaled-down stadium, likely beginning this summer.

Costs are unknown, but sources said government has no choice because the longer the new stadium is delayed, the more expensive it becomes to fix up Canad Inns Stadium at Polo Park.

"It's pay me now or pay me later," one source said.

One estimate has the new price tag at about $100 million, down from the $135-million deal first announced in April 2009 between Creswin, all three levels of government and the University of Manitoba.

Under the deal announced last year, Creswin owner Asper would pay for a big part of the new stadium, but that was to be based on the success of a new upscale shopping centre called The Elms on the site of what's now Canad Inns Stadium. The recession has delayed Creswin's plans, as American retailers have so far been shy to sign onto long-term leases.

Another source said new Premier Selinger does not want the deal to die on his watch -- he's 15 months away from an election campaign and needs a high-profile project.

It's also an acknowledgement the Bombers need a new home and a show of support for Asper.

Under the reworked deal, Creswin will be granted a seat on the Bombers' board and an option to purchase the team when the company is able to secure enough tenants to get its high-end retail concept up and running. The length of the term of that option is unknown.

In the interim, the Bombers would continue to be run as a community-sponsored, non-profit operation presided over by the board of directors. Asper is a former member of the board.

Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz declined requests to comment.

Asper said on Friday he had no knowledge of any change in the stadium plan.

"(I) have said before and will say again we have a deal with the Blue Bombers and will only make further comment when there is a substantive basis to do so," he said in an email.

A spokeswoman for senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews said the federal government has received no request to review the stadium funding agreement. But the agreement for funding from Ottawa is with the province, not Creswin or Asper, she added.

Winnipeg Football Club vice-chairman Bill Watchorn was unavailable.

The stadium, which will serve both the Bombers and U of M Bisons, will be built at the northwest corner of Chancellor Matheson Road and University Crescent. The deal signed last year also called for upgrades to neighbouring University Stadium and other recreation improvements at the university.

Ottawa pledged $15 million toward the recreation facilities, while the Manitoba government pledged $20 million toward the stadium component.

The City of Winnipeg agreed to sell Creswin the existing Canada Inns Stadium site at full market value to allow Asper's company to build The Elms. Its profits would then fund the stadium project. The original deal called for the stadium to be owned by the public, but managed by Creswin.

Creswin had hoped to assemble enough tenants at The Elms to proceed with stadium construction last fall, but received a one-year extension after the deadline passed in October.

The longer it takes for the Bombers to move into the new home, the greater the cost to the Winnipeg Football Club. Every year the team continues to play out of Canad Inns Stadium will cost the club $150,000 to $200,000 in repairs and maintenance, plus more losses stemming from fans refusing to attend the 56-year-old ballpark, board chairman Ken Hildahl said in October.

An even longer Creswin delay would prove costlier, as Canad Inns Stadium will require millions in upgrades as soon as 2012, Hildahl added.

The unknown factor in stadium-upgrade costs is what Provincial Court Judge Mary Kate Harvie will say in an imminent inquest report into the death of Andrew Szabo in August 2006. Szabo, 52, fell from the stands during a football game and suffered serious injuries. He died in hospital.

Harvie is looking at possible safety upgrades at the football stadium and the medical care Szabo received.

As the Selinger government could eventually wind up on the hook for some of those upgrades, building a new stadium now may be a cheaper option.

University of Manitoba public affairs manager John Danakas said he was not aware of any changes to the project.

 

-- With a file from Nick Martin

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

 

Political football?

WHAT'S NEW

Construction of a new football stadium will be announced within days.

 

WHAT'S CHANGED

The recession kicked the air out of plans to start construction last year, so an extension was granted to give businessman David Asper more time to develop a new shopping centre on the old stadium site.

 

WHO'S LEADING IT

Premier Greg Selinger. The rookie premier needs a boost to get his face out there in advance of the Oct. 4, 2011, election. With construction of the stadium to begin this summer, it can be finished before Manitobans head to the polls.

 

WHAT'S THE RISK?

While Selinger could be criticized for spending money so soon after his government tabled a multi-year deficit budget, it can be quickly countered that as each day passes, Canad Inns Stadium will need a significant injection of cash for upgrades. Selinger can also say the project will put people to work and benefit the province through various construction-related taxes.

 

Stadium shuffle

1. RED RIVER EXHIBITION

Kickoff: November 2004.

Location: West of the Perimeter Highway, on the existing Red River Ex grounds.

Key players: The Winnipeg Football Club, Red River Exhibition and the Canad Inns hotel chain.

Third down: Then-premier Gary Doer and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz were not too keen on funding a stadium on the outer edge of the city. Punt.

2. POLO PARK

Kickoff: January 2007.

Location: On the existing site of Canad Inns stadium.

Key player: Creswin Properties.

Third down: Ottawa shows little interest in dumping money in a project that would primarily be used for professional football. The punt team is sent in.

3. PUBLIC MARKETS

Kickoff: March 2007.

Location: At the former Canada Packers site in St. Boniface.

Key player: Canad Inns.

Third down: Leo Ledohowski's proposal for an indoor stadium gets the boot when the Winnipeg Football Club chooses to hand the ball off to David Asper and his Creswin group.

4. SOUTH POINT DOUGLAS

Kickoff: June 2008

Location: Northeast of downtown, just east of the Disraeli Freeway and south of the CPR Keewatin line.

Key player: Creswin Properties.

Third down: Trouble from the get-go, as the costs of accessing land and changing the surrounding infrastructure proved to be too expensive. Asper decides to take the safety and find a better field position elsewhere.

5. UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA

Kickoff: September 2008.

Location: The northwest corner of Chancellor Matheson Drive and University Crescent.

Key players: Creswin and the U of M.

Third down: With the province and Ottawa committing a combined $35 million and Asper in for $100 million, the project's hopes hinge on Creswin selling retail space on the current stadium site. As the retail engine sputters, Asper -- who was supposed to take over the football club in 2010 -- is granted a 12-month extension in October. With little movement on the original plan, a scaled-down version of the project is now being considered. Time out on the field.

-- Adam Wazny

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2010 A3

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