Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stadium price is rising, but by how much?

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When you build a bowl-shaped stadium, you wind up with a fantastic facility for football.

But as construction crews finished the concrete concourse that wraps around Investors Group Field, some observers noticed a problem with the design: There was no way to get fans on and off the field.

During a football game, you want to separate fans from the playing surface. But during a concert by, say, Taylor Swift or Paul McCartney, it's nice to have a few thousand people in front of the stage.

So before the stadium opened, construction crews tore holes out of the concrete and installed metal staircases that allow fans to get down to the field level during concerts.

The total cost of this little change? A few hundred-thousand dollars. The precise figure is known only to the Winnipeg Football Club and presumably BBB Stadium Inc., the organization responsible for building Investors Group Field.

Neither of those entities has revealed the price of retrofitting the stadium to handle concerts -- or any other changes to a building that was supposed to cost $200 million to build.

That number is out of date. Earlier this week, Bomber interim president and CEO Wade Miller said it will cost $350,000 to upgrade Investors Group Field's inferior press box. A corporate sponsorship will cover the cost.

The club may be on the hook for the concert retrofitting as well, according to statements made this week by BBB Stadium president Phil Sheegl. "There are no costs to BBB over the $200 million," he said in an email statement.

For those of you keeping score, Investors Group Field was supposed to have a guaranteed maximum price of $190 million. But the price tag rose $10 million when BBB Stadium took out a loan to cover some stadium amenities.

That price tag has risen at least another half-million bucks, when you add the cost of fixing the badly designed press box to the concert retrofit. And the figure may rise even further, because there appear to be additional costs incurred by the Bombers.

"The Winnipeg Football Club has made significant additional investments for equipment and other leasehold improvements to Investors Group Field," a spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger said this week.

What are those improvements? The Winnipeg Football Club won't say. How much did they cost? Again, the club is silent.

What is known is when the responsibilty for building Winnipeg's new football stadium was transferred from Creswin Properties to the club itself, changes were made to the stadium design. And in the construction business, change orders are expensive. A guaranteed maximum price for any facility is only as good as the contract that governs the deal.

So to some extent, changes have driven up the price of Investors Group Field. The question is by how much? And who will cover the tab?

Sheegl said in a brief interview this week BBB Stadium and the Bombers are trying to settle the latter issue. "There are relatively minor design issues with the stadium, which are currently being addressed, and we are working toward resolution," he added in a statement Thursday.

Miller declined interview requests Thursday. Presumably, he's focused on trying to improve the 2-8 club's performance on the field.

But the Winnipeg Football Club also has a considerable amount of work to do when it comes to earning back the trust of Winnipeg football fans, who remain angry about being misled about the completion of the new stadium, among, well, many things.

Remember, the reason this city has a new football stadium is because governments grew tired of bailing out a near-bankrupt Blue Bombers organization every couple of years. A new stadium packed with additional revenue streams was supposed to end that situation.

But now the Bombers must pay back $95 million worth of loans, plus interest. Add in the extra strain of hiring Winnipeg Transit and police officers on game day, the additional capital required for concert retrofitting and who knows what else and... well, the team could be in tough.

The province says the Bombers can handle the additional load. But it would be nice to know the precise size of that load. After all, Winnipeg has had enough stadium surprises.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 B1

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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.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

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
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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