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This article was published 26/7/2018 (547 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The stakeholders responsible for a failed finance deal that’s left Manitoba taxpayers on the hook for more than $100 million are refusing to speak to what went wrong.
On Thursday, the Free Press reached out to many of the key players involved in the financing plan for the construction of Investors Group Field, the now five-year-old home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Requests for comments and interviews were either rebuffed or ignored.
Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen has called the convoluted and controversial deal an attempt by stakeholders to deliberately hide the nature of the agreement.
"The previous government devised an overly complex and confusing plan to mask expenses and apply property tax revenues from the former stadium site toward the repayment of loans to build Investors Group Field. It was a deliberate plan to understate the actual financial obligation of the province to the project," Friesen told the Free Press on Wednesday.
The plan, overseen by the former NDP government, was initially designed to eliminate the need for taxpayers to fund a significant portion of the stadium construction costs. A big chunk of the initial $160-million provincial loan, which flowed through the University of Manitoba (site of IGF) to owner Triple B Stadium Inc., was to have been paid off in the form of city and provincial taxes generated from redeveloping the old stadium site at Polo Park.
But redevelopment stalled — and the cold reality is the province is on the hook for $118.7 million, including interest charges, and it's begun the process of writing off the loan.
Triple B is a consortium that includes representatives from the province, City of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba and Winnipeg Football Club. Its four-person board of directors is composed of chairman Andrew Konowalchuk (U of M), Paul Olafson (city), Kelly Kowalchuk, and Michael Sullivan (province).
Multiple requests for an interview with Konowalchuk or other members of the board of directors have been ignored. Konowalchuk, through his assistant, requested the Free Press send questions by email instead.
"I’ve forwarded the (questions) to our board for consideration. Our board bylaws require that any response be (reviewed and approved) by the board," Konowalchuk wrote in an email to the Free Press late Thursday afternoon.
Former premier Greg Selinger, who led the government that spearheaded the stadium deal, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew declined comment. His press secretary said since Kinew wasn’t an MLA at the time, he doesn’t have any insight into the deal or what went wrong, instead directing the Free Press to Selinger and former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz.
On Thursday, Katz characterized initial coverage in the Free Press, which said he and Selinger were largely responsible for the failed deal, as an "attempt to rewrite history."
Katz said he would take time to consider whether to comment further.
A request for an interview with Friesen could also not be accommodated Thursday. A request for an interview at a later date was not answered by the end of day.
In addition to the financing plan for the project falling through, additional costs continue to mount for Triple B, as ongoing repairs continue to be needed on the five-year-old facility.
Since the stadium opened in May 2013, Triple B has spent roughly $27 million in repairs, fixing things such as leaks, drainage issues, cracks in concrete and poor insulation.
The consortium is currently suing the stadium's builder and architect for what it calls faulty construction and design concerns. The allegations have not been proven in court.
The provincial government said it is considering how best to probe into what went wrong with the deal, and why Manitobans have been kept in the dark about the true cost of IGF.
The deal was supposed to have the $160-million provincial loan paid back in two parts.
The first, through the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with payments funded through revenues generated through CFL team operations and the stadium itself. The second half of the loan was to be funded through tax revenues generated by the development of land at Polo Park where the old stadium was located.
Since the deal went into effect, however, there has been almost no development at the land in question, which the City of Winnipeg sold to Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd., the company which owns the nearby Polo Park shopping centre.
The Blue Bombers, meanwhile, have kept up their end of the bargain and have been meeting their payment schedule.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 7:49 PM CDT: Fixes typo