Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Losing stadium bubble latest mess for which no one takes responsibility

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No one is taking responsibility for problems at Investors Group Field.


No one is taking responsibility for problems at Investors Group Field.

Given the immense popularity of soccer and the presence of new footy facilities in the southern reaches of Winnipeg, there's no question the north side of the city also deserves an indoor venue where kids can kick around a ball.

Given the presence of an indoor soccer facility on the University of Manitoba campus, there's no question the placement of an inflatable dome over the playing surface at Investors Group Field during the winter would amount to an even greater concentration of recreation amenities on the south side of Winnipeg.

And given a Greg Selinger campaign promise in 2011 to build an indoor soccer facility north of the Assiniboine River, there's no question the NDP government should pursue that goal.

None of this, however, explains how the province, the Winnipeg Football Club or anyone else can justify the cancellation of the inflatable bubble long promised for Investors Group Field.

Early in 2008, when David Asper was the main proponent of a new football stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the idea of an inflatable bubble was floated as a means of ensuring this new facility would serve more than just professional football.

At the time, Mayor Sam Katz said the bubble would allow the stadium to be used more than 300 days a year as opposed to a mere 110. Football Manitoba and the Winnipeg Rifles were told the bubble would serve as a practice and training facility. The public at large was told the bubble would improve access for amateur sport.

Of course, a lot has happened since 2008. The location of the proposed stadium moved from Polo Park to Point Douglas to the University of Manitoba. A deal to build the stadium was arranged with the Asper-owned Creswin Properties as the main proponent -- and then morphed into a project led by the football club itself, with the province as the main financial backer and the city providing construction oversight.

Finally, the stadium was built despite a dispute between the contractor and steel-fabricating subcontractor, opened a year late and is now managed by a football club with an interim president who played no role in its construction.

Somewhere along the line, the inflatable bubble for the stadium was abandoned. Selinger said this decision was made in the wake of a Winnipeg Soccer Federation request to redirect $1.8 million dedicated to that bubble toward a $19.1-million indoor soccer facility proposed for Garden City.

That decision, the premier said, was to avoid redundant amenities on the U of M campus and help build a much-needed soccer amenity in north Winnipeg. And that would be great -- if someone had disclosed this to a public sold on the idea of a bubble over Investors Group Field during the winter.

Did Creswin cancel plans for the bubble after the stadium moved to the U of M? David Asper isn't saying. "I'm not prepared to comment on this and would suggest that you ask BBB Stadium, which was responsible for the construction," he said via email late Tuesday.

BBB Stadium chairman Phil Sheegl, Winnipeg's chief administrative officer, declined to respond to a request for comment. So did the Winnipeg Football Club, leaving Selinger to place the impetus for the move on the Winnipeg Soccer Federation.

Perhaps the bubble was more expensive than $1.8 million. Perhaps the technology was problematic, as the premier also hinted this week. The problem is absence of transparency about what is just the latest hiccup in the stadium project.

How does a stadium get built in subarctic Winnipeg with a press box open to the elements? Nobody will own up to that blooper, which will cost the Bombers $350,000 to fix.

Who signed off on the installation of an entire stadium full of railings that weren't up to code and had to be replaced? Who approved a stadium design that didn't allow access to the field level, even though concerts were a major part of the Bombers' business plan for the new stadium? Why didn't BBB Stadium or contractor Stuart Olson Dominion Construction or former president Garth Buchko notice any of the design flaws or deal with them ahead of time?

Guess what, Winnipeg? Nobody will say. For all we know, Not Me from The Family Circus is responsible for making major decisions in capital projects financed by the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Football Club.

The diffusion of responsibility for the Investors Group Field construction saga is emblematic of a political culture in which elected officials and public servants take no responsibility for their actions.

It wasn't just a bubble that disappeared from Investors Group Field. Also missing: any sense of accountability on behalf of the various players responsible for building what is now a $204-million stadium.

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


Updated on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 7:04 AM CDT: Chanegs headline, replaces photo

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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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