Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Opening 'great learning experience'

Bombers CEO contrite about game-day failures

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Given the year-long delay in the opening night of Investors Group Field, Winnipeg football fans were justifiably surprised to find themselves in the middle of an apparent construction site when the Blue Bombers played their first pre-season game.

On Wednesday night, fans struggled to avoid tripping across a ladder and dolly left on the west-side concourse. An asphalt machine was puttering outside the southeast corner of the building.

Some seats were congealed in a layer of construction dust, paint-flecked clothing was left in a stairwell and some surfaces remained unfinished.

Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Garth Buchko described the remaining work to be done to the $200-million stadium as "touchups, mostly" and noted he personally assisted the final beautification efforts in the lead-up to Wednesday's kickoff.

"Two hours before, I was pushing a broom, cleaning up cement dust. That's just the reality of the situation," Buchko said at a press conference Thursday to address the issues with opening night.

Work on the stadium went so close to the wire, the City of Winnipeg only issued a final occupancy permit on Tuesday, a day before the first football game. Hence the visible presence of construction materials and equipment.

"If you saw those things, they shouldn't have been there," Buchko said.

On the bright side, a long-rumoured failure to complete concession stands at the new stadium turned out not be true. Many concessions were not open on Wednesday because roughly one-quarter of the concessions staff were unable to attend the game in time, Buchko said.

This resulted in long lineups at the concessions that were operating, restricting the movement of fans throughout the stadium's much-vaunted open concourse -- and restricting views of the playing field.

The west-side stands wound up being just as congested as the concourse at the MTS Centre, a building that was crammed into a small footprint. Investors Group Field was designed to provide a superior fan experience, at least in comparison to the one offered by Canad Inns Stadium, currently under deconstruction at Polo Park.

Buchko, who has been forced to come before the media to address disappointments before, was again contrite on Thursday when asked to consider the significance of Wednesday night.

"We're looking at this as a great learning experience. We have to learn from it. We have to get better," he said.

"I don't think it was a disaster. It was certainly disappointing when we don't satisfy our customers."

Despite the disappointing game-day experience on opening night, most fans interviewed by the Free Press and other media outlets seemed happy with the venue. The sightlines from almost all seats are as excellent as they were advertised to be. The seats are spacious and comfortable. The new public-address system is exceptionally clear.

There were also short lineups in most men's washrooms, which are not only devoid of troughs but adorned with touchless sinks and hand-dryers.

Playing devil's advocate, it's possible to accept the failure of the event-day transportation plan on Wednesday as a necessary part of the learning curve associated with the new stadium. But it's tough to understand how a stadium delayed by a year can require so many "touchups" at the last minute.

The purpose of this new, mostly taxpayer-funded stadium was to provide the non-profit Winnipeg Football Club with the revenue it needs to remain a viable Canadian Football League franchise.

Those revenues won't materialize unless fans actually like the new stadium. In order for them to do so, it must be fully complete before the June 27 Bombers home opener.

There are only so many chances for a new venue to convey a first impression.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 0


Updated on Friday, June 14, 2013 at 6:47 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds video

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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