Garth BUCHKO has one big decision to make: When will the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will move into their new stadium?
The easy choice would be to say the 2013 season and be done with it, but that's not what the Bombers rookie CEO wants.
A report in Friday's Free Press said the Bombers are looking at a timeline that would see them begin play at the new stadium in September. The Free Press has since learned the Bombers are confident they can play their first home game on Sept. 21 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but are open to moving that date up to the Sept. 9 Banjo Bowl if they get a few breaks on the construction front.
The Bombers will hold a press conference next week to announce their plans, explain ticketing options to fans and hold one-on-one meetings with sponsorship clients. The ticketing will be straightforward -- the old price for games at the old stadium with increases not kicking in until the team makes its move.
To be clear, Buchko has little to do with the construction of the stadium. The Blue Bombers do not own the stadium but will manage it for BBB Incorporated when it's complete. BBB is a non-profit shell company representing the stakeholders, which include the city, province, University of Manitoba and the Bombers.
Stuart Olson Dominion is the general contractor on the job and they have posted a completion bond guaranteeing the stadium will be finished by Sept. 1.
Buchko has now been on the job since early March and has a far better understanding of what's going on. He's hired consultant Bill Peterson, an experienced sports management executive, to guide the team's transition from the old park to the new.
Petersen now runs his own consulting firm but was previously with AEG (Anschulz Entertainment Group), one of the world's largest multinational sports, real estate and entertainment firms.
Buchko and Petersen have spent hours on the construction site and have a thorough understanding of the challenges facing project director Mike Clynes.
"We have run into some difficulty and we stated last year that the winter would tell us whether or not we would play a game in June," said Clynes, who last managed a $4.8-billion mega resort project in Las Vegas for Stuart Olson Dominion.
"It's not the cold; we can work in the cold. It's the wind."
"This winter we encountered some very high winds... We're lifting, in some cases, 200-ton pieces of steel up in the air for the arch truss. It states in the engineer's documents that you can't lift the steel in winds over 29 mph, so that has really impacted us."
Clynes, however, says progress is being made.
"Presently we have 400 persons on-site working seven days a week. Some are among the best people I've worked with, and I have 30 years of experience in the industry.
"There's been a heroic effort to try and provide the people of Winnipeg with a monumental stadium. The weather has been unpredictable and it's all about the weather. We're doing our best to open the stadium as fast as we can and we will continue to give our all."
Armed with that information, Buchko went to his board on Tuesday night and presented a number of options. One of those options was to play the entire season at the old facility and move into the new stadium in 2013.
But that wasn't Buchko's recommendation or the course of action the board voted to follow. A board source says Buchko is confident the stadium can be completed by Sept. 1 and that there will be time to run a number of trial openings to work the bugs out before opening it to 33,000 people for a game.
The Bombers want to get their fans into the new stadium as soon as possible. Playing in the old park for five of the club's regular-season games will already represent a major financial loss on both the ticketing and sponsorship fronts.
The optics of declaring the new stadium out of bounds for this entire season and then having the building completed and sitting empty are also unmanageable. The club must get into the new field as soon as it is ready.
The Bombers made their big mistake last summer when they declared it the final season at the old stadium without having the facts to base that decision on. Understandably, the Bombers and in particular the board members, were inexperienced in managing such a project. Buchko has quickly learned from those mistakes and brought in Peterson to oversee the transition. Peterson has the experience and knowledge no one in the Bombers camp can claim to have. Having him in place a year ago would have been much wiser and perhaps prevented some of these regrettable mis-steps in the public eye.
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