Is it big enough?
Maybe Blue Bombers need a more expansive home
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/08/2011 (4056 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It promises to be an extraordinary scene at Canad Inns Stadium tonight.
An overflow crowd of 30,033 — one butt for every seat, bench and temporary structure in the old barn — will be the largest crowd to witness a regular season CFL game at Canad Inns Stadium since the final game of the 2006 season, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took advantage of temporary seating for that year’s Grey Cup to cram 30,092 into the place.
Aside from that one game, tonight’s crowd will be the largest to witness a regular season football game in this town since the Stadium was shrunk to its present capacity as part of a Pan Am Games renovation after the 1998 season.
It has been a party at Polo Park all this season, but this one really does promise to be something truly special. The 500 extra seats the Bombers hastily installed this week, to satisfy the insatiable demand in this community right now for all things Bombers, are located at field level and adjacent to the south end zone.
The seats themselves aren’t much, but the proximity to the field and the intimacy afforded by the small wooden structures is extraordinary and it’s probably not going to take long for Bombers players scoring touchdowns in the south end zone to leap into the waiting arms of fans, a la the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Call it a leap of faith — and it won’t be unlike the one the people of this province made last fall when we committed $190 million of taxpayer money to building the Bombers a new stadium at the University of Manitoba.
There was no shortage of detractors in this community when that deal was announced. Some objected to the use of taxpayers money — and others just objected, because that’s what they always do whenever there’s talk of building something new in Winnipeg.
Remember how hard that latter faction tried to save the Eaton’s building from becoming what is now an NHL arena? They took Mark Chipman to the Supreme Court, for goodness sake. Those same folks, of course, are conspicuous by their silence these days — or maybe we just can’t hear them over the chants of ‘Go Jets Go’ — just as the detractors of a new stadium seem to have suddenly gone underground this summer.
It is no coincidence that just hours before the Bombers take on the Ticats in front of that jammed house tonight, the Bombers have invited the media to cover a formal tour they are giving of their construction site this afternoon to Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz, who will both be only too happy to pose in front of what suddenly has the makings of a very politically advantageous public works project.
Indeed, with a winning football team that is the best sports story in Canada this summer and four consecutive sellouts now guaranteed — tonight is No. 3 — the more relevant question is no longer whether we should be building a new stadium for the Bombers, but whether the one we are building is big enough.
The new stadium going up at the University of Manitoba will accommodate 33,500 fans for Bombers games. That’s about 4,000 more than the present facility accommodates — which, at least for the moment, we’re already jamming to overflowing. And the new place is presumably going to have to last us through what could be significant population increases for decades to come, if the 53-year-old stadium the Bombers presently occupy is any indication.
So I put the question Thursday to Jeff Thompson, the man the Bombers have overseeing the move to the new stadium — If you knew two years ago when stadium plans were being drawn up what you know now in this remarkable summer, would we building a larger stadium at the U of M?
“No, absolutely not,” said Thompson, the chief transition officer. “To build bigger was never contemplated. This was the right size… We’ve increased the capacity more than 10 per cent, which is a large increase. When you look at stadiums being built now, they’re downsizing them, not oversizing them.”
Thompson said the design of the new stadium is such that it will expand easily and comfortably on the main concourse to hold 40,000 for major events like the Grey Cup.
But beyond that, Thompson sounds like a man who would be quite content if the biggest problem his football club faces in the future is the status quo this summer — more demand for tickets than supply.
“Nothing would make us happier to have full sellouts — 33,500 a game, from now until 40 years from now. That would be great,” said Thompson.
“I’d like to think this will be the new norm.”
There is one big unknown, however. “I don’t know if we can count on this team being 6-1 to start the season every year,” said Bombers lineman Doug Brown. “I’ve been here 11 years and we don’t normally have a shortage of seats.”
Related video: Bomber stadium taking shape: An inside look
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.