The grumbling started up again almost immediately last week with the surprise announcement the province was pumping yet another $3 million into Investors Group Field -- this time, according to a news release, to "improve energy efficiency."
With the province's announcement -- timed to coincide with the CFL announcing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had been awarded hosting rights to the 2015 Grey Cup -- the price tag for a stadium taxpayers were once "guaranteed" would not exceed $190 million had swelled to something now in the neighbourhood of $207 million.
And that, not surprisingly, didn't play well in the small -- but very vocal -- quarters of this city where even one dollar of taxpayer money toward a new stadium or arena is too much.
Now, these are the same folks, of course, who objected to the $7 million in taxpayer money that went to help underwrite the costs of building the Winnipeg Goldeyes' ballpark, Shaw Park, which was constructed in two phases for a bargain-basement price of $24.9 million and also hosted the 1999 Pan Am Games baseball event.
And many of the same folks complaining these days about taxpayer money in IGF were the same folks who fought so hard -- all the way to the Supreme Court, in fact -- to prevent the construction of the MTS Centre, which cost taxpayers $40 million toward the total $133.5-million construction cost.
History, of course, has judged those critics harshly. Shaw Park is now almost universally regarded as a jewel of summer living in Winnipeg -- and one that would cost triple to build today what it did back then.
And the MTS Centre?
Well, that just might be the best bargain ever negotiated in a city that prides itself on paying wholesale for everything -- and that was even before it paved the way for the return of the Winnipeg Jets.
The lesson? Well, to me it's that a small amount of taxpayer dollars seems to go a very long way in this town when we partner with private interests to invest in public works. But hey, that's just me.
Others don't see it that way, of course, and so we are once again having this same old debate, only this time it's not about a baseball park or a hockey arena, but a football stadium.
And Wade Miller, CEO of the Bombers, confidently predicts this argument will ultimately be settled with the same result as the first two.
"It is the talk of Canada about how amazing and beautiful this facility is. It stands by itself -- apart from any other stadium in Canada. And for the dollars? You just won't see that again," Miller said this week.
"In five, 10 or 15 years, people are going to look back and say, 'Wow, that was impressive it got done for that amount of money.' "
Now, none of this is to say the construction of Investors Group Field was flawless. On the contrary, it was riddled with missteps, beginning with the fact construction was a season late in finishing and continuing all the way to expensive-to-fix head-scratchers such as the outdoor press box and lack of entry points from the stands to field level for concerts.
But what isn't really up for debate is whether we Manitobans got a good deal in Investors Group Field, even at $207 million. Because if you look at the comparables -- and the two best ones would have to be new CFL stadiums going up in Hamilton and Regina -- there isn't much question we got great value for money in IGF. Yes, even at the newest higher price.
The fine people of Saskatchewan, for instance, are going to spend at least $278 million building a new stadium in Regina that, like Winnipeg's, will also be open-air, bowl-shaped and with a partial roof, but seat 500 fewer spectators -- 33,000, instead of 33,500.
And $278 million is just the projected cost. How much do you want to bet Regina's final bill, like Winnipeg's, will be higher once the place actually opens in 2017?
And then there's Hamilton's new stadium, which is costing $145.7 million but will seat just 24,000, feature no roof and consist of not much more than two grandstands facing a playing surface.
Oh, and it also might not be done in time for the start of the 2014 season, either.
You'd rather have that?
Indeed, you could argue -- although do so at your own peril (and wear a helmet) -- that if anyone's getting ripped off in this stadium deal, it's the Bombers.
Calm down and consider: the Roughriders' share of their stadium's $278-million cost is just $25 million. And the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are on the hook for 20 years of annual payments at $1.2 million per year -- or $24 million spread out over 20 years.
And the Bombers? Well, they've got to pay back a total of $95 million -- $85 million to the province and $10 million to the bank -- over the coming decades. With interest.
Whose stadium deal would you rather have if you were running a CFL team? It certainly wouldn't be the one the Bombers have.
And still, there are those who complain.
Maybe it's the endless winters that make us so crabby. Or maybe it's just the way we're wired after having to learn to survive at a subsistence level just to settle this godforsaken piece of land.
But whatever it is, we once again have something really, really nice, despite our protests.
Value for money?
With last week's announcement that the province was allocating $3 million to improve energy efficiency at Investors Group Field, the total cost of Winnipeg's new football stadium rose to $207 million. Free Press football reporter Paul Wiecek took a look at what Winnipeg got for their money and how we compare to Hamilton and Regina, where new CFL stadiums are also going up:
Investors Group Field
Principle Tenant: Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Cost: $207 million
Permanent seating capacity: 33,500
Design: Bowl, with partial roof
What's cool about it -- That curved roof, which caused so much trouble and delay during construction, is an instantly recognizable architectural signature that is as beautiful to look at as it is practical to sit under.
What's a bummer: The location on the campus of the University of Manitoba means getting in and getting out of major events is slow. It's gotten better, for sure, but it still kind of sucks and probably always will.
Who's paying: The city has provided a $7.5 million grant towards stadium construction and will devote municipal property tax revenue from the redevelopment of the old Polo Park stadium site towards the repayment of another $75 million of the stadium building loan. On the plus-side of the ledger, the city recouped $30.25 million fron the sale of the old stadium site to private developers.
The province has contributed a $22.5 million grant towards stadium construction, a further $3 million towards winterizing the building for intense cold (announced last week) and -- like the city is doing with property taxes -- will also devote education taxes from the redevelopment of the old Polo Park site towards the repayment of $75 million of the stadium loan. The province also loaned the Bombers $85 million towards the team's share of construction costs.
The Bombers are on the hook for repaying the province that $85 million with interest over 44 years and also owe the bank a further $10 million for a loan the stadium builder consortium, BBB Stadium Inc., took out to add some extra amenities to the stadium, like a "ribbon board" for advertising. The Bombers are also on the hook for another $350,000 or so to enclose the outdoor press box -- a condition the team had to meet before the CFL would award them the 2015 Grey Cup. The Bombers retained the naming rights to the stadium and sold them to Investors Group for an undisclosed sum.
There is also a final $3.5 million worth of additional work that had to be done to the stadium as construction concluded -- which included things like some fixes to some hand rails and the addition of a fire suppression system in a crawl space. CEO Wade Miller said this week that the BBB consortium will be responsible for those costs.
Tim Hortons Field
Principle Tenant: Hamilton Tiger-CatsProjected cost: $145.7 millionProjected to open: Summer 2014Permanent seating capacity: 24,000Design: Two free-standing grandstands, uncovered
What's cool about it: The Ticats claim the stadium will include the largest outdoor video board in Canada.
What's a bummer: It's basically just two grandstands facing each other, with a field in the middle. There's what the team is calling a "meeting place" in one end zone, but basically this joint is old school and as stripped down as stadium construction gets these days.
Who's paying: The city of Hamilton is contributing $54.3 million, the province of Ontario is paying $22.3 million and the federal government is paying $69.1 million. The Ticats convinced the feds to cough up big cash -- something federal governments have been loathe to do for professional arenas or stadiums in recent years -- because the stadium will also be used for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
The Ticats contribution is relatively paltry -- they've agreed to repay the city $1.2 million per year for the next 20 years. But in exchange for that annual payment to the city, the Ticats received in return the naming rights to the stadium, which they promptly sold to Tim Hortons for an undisclosed sum.
New Regina Stadium
Principle Tenant: Saskatchewan RoughridersProjected Cost: $278 millionProjected opening: 2017Stadium design: Bowl, partial roof
What's cool about it: The stadium is being designed in such a way that it could be fully enclosed as a dome at a later date. Also, there are going to be special wind louvers that can be raised or lowered to either allow a gentle prairie breeze into the stadium or to keep out those Regina gales.
What's kind of a bummer: It's being built in Regina. I mean, come on -- have you been to Regina?
Who's paying: The province of Saskatchewan is providing a grant of $80 million and also floating a $100-million loan to the City of Regina. The city is contributing $73 million and the Riders are on the hook for the final $25 million.
But it's more complicated than that. That $100 million the city is borrowing from the province is going to mostly be covered by a user levy that is expected to cost $12 per ticket to Rider games once the stadium opens. And the city is also introducing a new .45 per cent property tax hike for the next 10 years to help underwrite stadium costs -- a tax hike the Regina Leader-Post estimates is going to cost the average Regina household $5-6 per year.
The Riders are expected to underwrite at least part of their $25 million share of the new stadium costs by selling the naming rights.