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Bombers keen to tackle stadium cost

Football club would be on hook for $70M under revamped proposal

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/12/2010 (3529 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The new football stadium that was supposed to keep the Winnipeg Blue Bombers out of debt may actually put the club there for decades, under the terms of the latest deal to complete the 33,000-seat facility.

But the Winnipeg Football Club maintains a new stadium at the University of Manitoba will provide the non-profit organization with new revenue streams to pay back a provincial loan pegged at $70 million.

The city, province, university and the Winnipeg Football Club are still ironing out the details of a plan to complete a stadium expected to cost $190 million or more, with the province paying for most of the construction costs up front.

The province agreed in 2009 to provide a $15-million grant to the project. The city is now expected to kick in approximately $7 million, according to sources familiar with a proposal to end Winnipeg's stadium saga.

New city and provincial property taxes from commercial or residential developments at the existing Polo Park stadium site -- one of the most desirable properties in Winnipeg -- will be used to pay back approximately $90 million of the provincial stadium-building loan.

But the Winnipeg Football Club will be on the hook for $70 million. Board chairman Bill Watchorn said the club is up to the task, even though he declined to confirm that's how much money the Bombers will be expected to generate to cover their end of the project.

"From the perspective of the football club, there is a final commitment and we're confident in our business model," Watchorn said.

The new venue will provide the club with more luxury-box revenue, more revenue from concessions, more retail revenue and also more money from naming rights, he suggested without going into details about the new revenue streams.

"You're really coming to the heart of our business model, and that's what I'll address when we make an announcement," he said.

The current naming rights for Canad Inns Stadium generate $150,000 a year. That was considered to be the low end of the naming spectrum when the sponsorship deal was signed in 2001. CFL ratings on TSN have since risen, along with the expectation for naming rights.

Watchorn also said the club could double facility fees from the current $2 per ticket to $4 per ticket, a move that would generate an additional $500,000 a year.

The team will also have another $800,000 a year in entertainment-tax revenue to spend in 2013, when the club expects to retire a bailout loan from the former Winnipeg Enterprises Corporation.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were $5.5 million in debt when the city, province and Winnipeg Enterprises stepped in with a bailout plan in 2000. The club has been hoping to build a new stadium since 2004 to generate new revenues and prevent the team from spending millions to maintain the 56-year-old Canad Inns Stadium.

The prospect of spending public funds on a plan that would require the team to make payments to the province for decades attracted the attention of Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives on Thursday.

"Obviously we would have concerns about the football club taking on more debt than it's able to service," Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen told reporters.

"We would want to know what will happen in the event that the football club defaults on that debt, because there's got to be somebody there backstopping in the event of that default. We want to know who that is."

The city expects the province to play that role. But that's just one of the sticking points in a deal that's also hung up over the absence of a guaranteed maximum price and the viability of the Bombers' business plan. On Thursday, discussions between all of the stakeholders continued.

Premier Greg Selinger said the parties were "working on a pre-Christmas solution," although he still hoped a deal could be in place before the final city council meeting of the year, on Dec. 15. "People feel they're getting very close to a consensus approach on this, but the final time for doing it has not been confirmed yet."

"Everybody is anxious to move it forward but the reality is that everybody has to be brought in the loop on this and brought up to speed. And if that requires an extra day or two, so be it," he said.

Watchorn agreed, praising the city and province for thoroughly scrutinizing what he hopes will be a final deal. "Everything's been covered off," he said. "What we hope is no more news stories about the stadium, other than whether it's on time. That's comforting to us."

The proposed deal calls for the football club to become the project manager of the stadium-construction project in place of Creswin Properties, which is expected to exit the deal. The previous plan foundered when the cost jumped to more than the $115-million figure approved by the city and province.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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