Winnipeg’s worst-kept secret: Stadium opening delayed

Bombers push stadium opening back to Sept. 9 Banjo Bowl

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Thought you saw the last of the lineup at the pee trough? Guess again.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2012 (3863 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Thought you saw the last of the lineup at the pee trough? Guess again.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers confirmed the worst-kept secret in Bomberville on Wednesday when they said the team will play at least five games in the old Canad Inns Stadium this season.

For season-ticket holders it means sitting in your old seats at 2011 prices and then moving over to the brand-spanking-new Investors Group Field as early as Sept. 9 for the annual Banjo Bowl tilt against Saskatchewan.

Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press Garth Buchko, president and CEO of the Blue Bombers, says Investors Group Field won�t be game-ready until as late as Sept. 21, but they�re pushing for Sept. 9.

But that date is still in play — the Bombers might not be able to move into the 33,500-seat bowl stadium until Sept. 21, when Hamilton rolls into town. It all depends on how fast construction of the new, partially domed stadium goes over the next three months.

Bombers president and CEO Garth Buchko, outlining the plan for the media in the south-end concourse of the new stadium, said the team has no choice but to reopen Canad Inns Stadium for what could be one pre-season game and up to five regular-season games.

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"At the end of day, we want Blue Bomber fans to have the best fan experience in their new home," he said. "Opening this facility any earlier than our now targeted date was simply not going to justify that."

At the end of last season, the Bombers and their fans celebrated the last game in the old stadium in the hope they’d be in the new $190-million stadium for this season’s June 20 opening-day exhibition game, but in February, the Bombers pushed it back to July 26 when they said the new stadium was two months behind schedule.

The CFL also rejigged the schedule so the Bombers started the season with four straight road games, in B.C., then Montreal, next Edmonton and then back across the country to Toronto.

Buchko said the Bombers will re-evaluate progress on the stadium by midsummer before they know for sure the first game will be the Banjo Bowl or the game two weeks later against the Ticats. The Bombers will spend less than $100,000 getting Canad Inns Stadium game-ready.

"It’s disappointing," Buchko said of the missed July 26 target date. "It’s disappointing for our fans, for our sponsors, for the entire organization that worked hard for the July 26 date."

However, he said it was unavoidable given the challenges of installing the canopies during a winter in which the wind blew hard both ways. Those high winds prevented cranes from placing steel beams as heavy as 200 tonnes into place about 200 feet above ground.

"Going into December we were nine per cent ahead of schedule," said project director Mike Clynes, of Stuart Olson Dominion. "Unfortunately, over the course of the winter, we did have some winds. We had strong southern winds that brought in the warm temperatures, and then they were pushed right back out again by the cold northern wind."

Clynes said as work on the canopy finishes, it will allow things to speed up over the next few weeks and months, with up to 600 workers putting on the finishing touches.

"If we add any more workers, they’ll be tripping over top of each other," Buchko said.

The finishing touches include installing seats and giant Jumbotrons in either end zone, plus removing two metres of earth and crushed rock from the field before the playing turf is installed.

"It’s going to be a monument for decades to come," Clynes said.

Jim Bell, the Bombers’ vice-president and chief operating officer, said the construction delay will only impact season-ticket holders in that they might have to sit in their old seats longer than anticipated.

"The best thing I could advise right now (is) that if people want to get in the queue, they should get on the wait-list for the new stadium so that we can start thinking of allocating them to the old, to Canad Inns," Bell said, declining to reveal what the financial hit to the Bombers will be with the delay.

Besides fans, the Bombers are also working out deals for sponsors and advertisers.

Buchko added the Bombers are confident they can be in the new stadium no later than Sept. 21.

"The reality is we wouldn’t be having this press conference today if we didn’t think Sept. 21 was a very likely if not 100 per cent positive time to open it," he said. "We’re also pushing for the Banjo Bowl.

"Banjo Bowl weekend is the biggest football opportunity in Canada."

If the new stadium is ready to host the Roughriders for the Banjo Bowl, it means it’ll also be ready for the U of M Bisons to play their first game of the season the day before, against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

Buchko also said the stadium is on budget, but there is about $3 million in cost overruns the Bombers will cover. The Bombers have added a second electronic ribbon board and will install two larger video boards or Jumbotrons than first planned.

"We had an opportunity to enhance the fan experience significantly," he said. "We purchased the largest video boards with the highest definition of any stadium in North America besides Dallas Cowboys Stadium."

The video boards currently being installed in Investors Group Field are the same size as those in Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play.

Extra money has also been spent to improve the concession areas.

The delay to September also means the Bombers won’t have to start paying back the government for another year.

"The $4-million repayment to the government has been pushed back one year, so we will start repaying that in 2014," Buchko said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

What the Bombers want fans to know

Season-ticket holders:

You will sit in your old seats at Canad Inns Stadium at Polo Park until it’s time to move across town to Investors Group Field at the University of Manitoba. Tailgate parties will start either Sept. 9 for the Banjo Bowl or Sept. 21 when the Tabbies come calling. It all depends on how construction goes.

For as long as you sit in your old seat, you will pay 2011 ticket prices. This means you will pay 2011 tickets prices for five games at Canad Inns Stadium and new ticket prices for five games at Investors Group Field, subject to opening day being Sept. 9. The Bombers will adjust your account as needed.

If the first game in Investors Group Field is not played until Sept. 21, the Bombers will credit season-ticket holders any difference in pricing and apply that credit against their 2013 season tickets.

Season-ticket holders can buy additional tickets May 4-18.

Last year, the Bombers sold 21,155 season tickets, and they’re seeing a 98 per cent renewal rate.

Fans on the wait list

You can buy season tickets May 22-26 subject to availability.

Fans not on the wait list

Season tickets go on sale to the public May 28.

Single game seats

They go on sale June 8.

Investors Group Field key stats

The arch trusses that support the canopies on either side of the field are the largest in Canada. They span 180 metres (590 feet) and are about 60 metres (200 feet) above ground.

When finished, there will be more than 1.6 hectares of roof on each side.

Builders will put in place 9,000 tonnes of steel held together by 88,000 bolts.

They will pour and install 28,000 cubic metres of concrete.

Almost 100,000 man-hours have gone into the project to date.

More than 400 workers are on the site each day, but that will increase to 600 in the days ahead.

Watch a replay of Wednesday’s press conference below:

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