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More fumbles

Stadium price tag grows over unpaid sub-trades, costly fire issues

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Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press
Fans cheer at the inaugural regular season game at Investors Group Field on June 27.


Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press Fans cheer at the inaugural regular season game at Investors Group Field on June 27.

Around the time Winnipeg learned it would finally get a new $190-million football stadium that would be largely financed by the province, I asked Premier Greg Selinger if this would be his legacy project. Wisely, as it turns out, he didn't say yes.

Thanks to delays in construction and deficiencies of design, the cost of the project has since hit $204 million. And counting. Why counting?

Well, as the truest and probably bluest of Bomber fans arrive this afternoon for the final game in what has been the most miserable year in club history, thousands will sit over a hidden crawl space that runs the length of the east grandstand and houses utility pipes and cables never seen by the public.

Yet, it's because the crawl space doesn't have a fire-suppression sprinkler system -- a code-interpretation oversight that will eventually add about $200,000 to the stadium bill -- Investors Group Field still only has a conditional occupancy permit from the city. That's why BBB Stadium Inc. has been required for months to pay a security guard to maintain a 24-7 fire watch in the huge crawl space, which is easily high enough for security to stand guard.

Just in case a fire breaks out.

I would submit that, in a manner of speaking, a figurative fire around construction of the stadium is already burning, and BBB Stadium Inc. -- the ownership consortium consisting of the province, city, University of Manitoba and the Bombers -- is having trouble dousing the flames.

It was a conversation with an anonymous caller who pointed me to all the smoke from all the unfinished business at the unfinished stadium, including details of the crawl space and the fire watch, which was subsequently confirmed by a spokesman for the province and BBB Stadium Inc.

The caller also said -- and the same provincial government spokesman later confirmed -- there is an ongoing payment dispute between BBB Stadium Inc., or Triple B as it's informally known -- and Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd., (SODC) the general contractor.

And caught in the middle is a group of about half a dozen local sub-trades, largely family-run, that are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by SODC. But, five months after what is known in the construction industry as substantial completion, the SODC is still waiting to be paid by Triple B for what the general contractor claims is millions of dollars worth of invoices.

So it happened that last month SODC met the sub-trades for a briefing at its office on Erin Street. The general contractor reported on Oct. 2, SODC executives had been called to the office of City of Winnipeg CAO and Triple B chairman Phil Sheegl, who just over two weeks later would resign both positions. Vince Barletta, the province's designated person on the Triple B board, was also at the meeting.

SODC management is media shy. But according to sub-trade sources who attended the subsequent briefing at the SODC office, the general contractor said Triple B told them they wouldn't pay nearly $3 million in submitted bills because there was a funding shortfall. And Triple B expected the general contractor to take the financial hit and pay the sub-trades.

SODC claimed it came in on budget and is still owned several millions more. The company reported it only did extra work when it was requested and signed off on by Triple B and, in some cases, the Bombers.

Sub-trade officials I spoke with this week felt a sense of betrayal and anger at the province, city and Bombers. Many have been big supporters of football for years and took pride in helping build the team's landmark new home.

They believed SODC would ultimately honour what was owed them, but one sub-trade owner who is owed about $300,000 was angry at Triple B.

Early this week, when I called the media handler for the premier's office and asked about Triple B's so-called budget "shortfall," it was initially characterized as approximately $3 million in "unforeseen costs." I was told "discussions are ongoing between BBB Stadium Inc. and Stuart Olson Dominion."

Later, a provincial spokesman said Triple B believed it should only pay for half the bills submitted, or $1.5 million.

That, coincidentally, is all the money Triple B has, the spokesman said.

The spokesman says $1.5 million is also the amount that was promised when an SODC executive asked for it on behalf of the sub-trades. That commitment was made two weeks ago.

But by the time I spoke with the province's spokesman, the money still hadn't been paid. It will be "next week," the spokesman assured me. But, as he was saying, that leaves nothing in the Triple B budget or the bank.

So where are they going to get the $200,000 to pay to end the fire watch? Presumably from money the province and city will commit to upgrading our new stadium for the Bombers bid to host the 2015 Grey Cup. Money, I should add, that will also be needed to keep the pipes from freezing in a stadium that is not up to winter-like weather.

As I was saying, $204 million. And counting.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 B1


Updated on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 12:34 PM CDT: fixed headline

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