Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers ecstatic over new digs at Investors Group Field

CFL team feeling BIG-TIME

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The hot tub is big enough to swim in -- literally.

The locker and training rooms rival those in the NFL.

The equipment room has doubled in size, the weight room has quadrupled in size and an 80-seat theatre is bigger than some of the commercial movie theatres in town.

The coaches finally all have their own offices, the players finally have their own lounge and the daily news conferences with head coach Tim Burke will be held in a media theatre instead of a hallway.

The training guys say they now have the very best equipment to get injured players healthy -- and then keep them healthy once they are. The players say the whole thing feels big-time and they expect it will give them a competitive advantage over other CFL teams. The equipment guys talk like they've died and gone to heaven -- a paradise that comes complete with nifty floor-to-ceiling motorized shelving units.

In a town famous for never doing anything right if there is a cheaper half-ass solution to be found, it would appear the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are about to make good on their long-awaited pledge to provide this city with a world-class football stadium.

While the site at the University of Manitoba remains an active construction zone, the Bombers provided the Free Press with the first comprehensive sneak peak inside the facility Wednesday. At first glance, it appears that few, if any, corners were cut, despite a price tag of under $200 million that is well below the current market rate for new football stadiums.

"We're building a first-class facility. And I think the first step in building a first-class organization starts with the facility," said Bombers CEO Garth Buchko as he stood inside a massive Bombers locker-room that houses 68 permanent lockers and has room for a dozen more temporary ones during training camp.

"Our players -- to a person -- have commented that this is an NFL-calibre equipment room, locker-room, training room and facility. I think it will help recruit players and help keep players here."

The guts of the football operations are housed in a sprawling, windowless labyrinth of rooms in the basement. Investors Group Field is dug into the ground, meaning the concourse is at street level and field level, where football operations is housed, is a long walk down.

The football operations department, for obvious reasons, was among the first areas completed and most of the moving -- six semi-trailer loads of equipment had to be shipped over from Polo Park -- is now complete.

But there's still lots of unpacking to do. Boxes remain piled up all over the place, some flooring still needs to go in and name plates still need to be attached to many doors.

There are plans to line the walls with photos and memorabilia from the team's long history, but for the moment, one of the only nods to the team's previous history can be found emblazoned in large letters on one wall of the new players lounge -- 'Morning Big Blue, Richard Harris.'

The greeting -- delivered by the team's late assistant head coach in his booming baritone to start practice every day, until he died suddenly during the 2011 season -- was emblazoned on the wall at the urging of equipment manager Brad Fotty.

"It's a dedication to him," said Fotty, "to tell his family that we haven't forgotten and never will."

Another unforgettable Bomber -- hall of fame quarterback Ken Ploen -- was on hand at the new stadium on Wednesday, getting the kind of personal tour of the new facility from a Bombers staffer that goes with being a franchise icon.

Ploen was stunned by what he saw. "This is a long way from Osborne Stadium," Ploen laughed, referencing the Bombers' home two stadiums ago now. "This is going to be an absolutely super place to watch and play. Now, all we have to do is fill it."

Buchko: 'We are on track'

THERE is, for sure, still lots of work to be done.

Orange tarps still drape large outdoor sections of Investors Group Field, there's still some exterior cladding to be done and all the recent snow has stalled installation of the seats, with the final 4,500 or so still to go in the north end of the stadium.

There's also still some work to be done on the east-side luxury boxes and a whole bunch of little finishing details, from tiny things like missing nameplates on doors and furniture still draped in plastic to the continuing installation of shelving, counters and cupboards.

But for all the details still to be finished and the army of construction workers still buzzing all around the site, Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko said everything is on schedule -- the new, latest and hopefully last schedule -- to be ready in time for football in June.

"I've been given every assurance by Stuart Olson Dominion that we are on track," said Buchko. "A few suites to finish up, the seats if it wasn't for the cold or snow -- we're about 85 per cent complete now. So now, it's just finishing, painting, putting some carpet down. We're hoarding a lot of heat to finish up these areas.

"But overall, as you can see it's a spectacular facility and something that all Manitobans should be proud of."

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2013 D3


Updated on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 1:51 PM CDT: Tweaks sentence to remove duplicate word.

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