Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winter bubble a big headache

Technical issues a big reason for rethinking stadium dome

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Among other things, the bubble would have taken too much time to assemble and take down every winter.

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Among other things, the bubble would have taken too much time to assemble and take down every winter.

The inflatable winter bubble once promised for Investors Group Field was cancelled due to technical and operational issues -- not just because of a request to divert recreation funding to a north Winnipeg soccer facility.

The original plan for the new stadium on the University of Manitoba campus called for the playing surface to be covered following the end of the Canadian Football League season to allow amateur sport access to the venue during the winter.

That bubble was characterized as a key selling point for public investment in a new Winnipeg stadium. When the bubble was floated by initial stadium backer David Asper, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz called the idea a "home run."

But plans for the bubble were cancelled in 2012 after BBB Stadium, the non-profit organization responsible for building Investors Group Field, discovered it would be impractical and expensive to clear snow from the edge of the facility, heat the interior and spend two months assembling and disassembling the structure every winter.

"There were technical and operational implications that would have made ongoing maintenance of the (dome) challenging, in particular snow removal. But the largest factor in consideration of cancellation of the dome was that it would only be useable for three (or) four months of the year," said Andrew Konowalchuk, BBB Stadium's chairman and an associate vice-president at the University of Manitoba.

Konowalchuk said the bubble could only be assembled after the end of a CFL season. Since assembly would have taken more than a month, that would mean the bubble wouldn't have been ready until December or January in years when the Bombers host a playoff game or Grey Cup -- and would then need to start coming down in March.

"This didn't make any sense when the money allocated to the dome at IGF would be much better spent on a 12-month-of-the-year, permanent complex," Konowalchuk said. "This is much better value for the public."

In September, when the Free Press asked about the bubble's cancellation, Selinger only mentioned technical issues in passing. The premier said the cancellation came in response to a February 2012 Winnipeg Soccer Federation request to redirect provincial funds from the bubble to an indoor soccer complex now proposed for Garden City.

"The soccer federation thought it would be a better use of the money to have a free-standing soccer facility in the North End," Selinger said in an interview at the time. "There seemed to be some concerns about the practicality of the bubble, but the real issue was there is a soccer facility. The soccer people themselves think this will have more benefit for kids."

Konowalchuk said two pieces of the bubble were purchased and brought to Winnipeg: a pair of massive air pumps, each one the size of a shipping container. One has since been sold and the other is for sale, Konowalchuk said.

The bubble was supposed to cost $2 million and allow Investors Group Field to be used more than 300 days a year as opposed to 110. Football Manitoba and the Winnipeg Rifles were told the bubble would serve as a practice and training facility.

Now, the province plans to spend $1.8 million of the bubble funds on a $19.1-million, FIFA-regulation indoor-soccer facility on the grounds of Garden City Park, a city-owned green space currently home to baseball diamonds, the Garden City Community Centre and the forthcoming Seven Oaks Arena.

The province has pledged $6.4 million to the Garden City facility. The soccer federation will attempt to raise $6.4 million on its own, while the city and Ottawa will be approached to cover the rest of the tab.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 A4

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