February 23, 2019

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Opinion

Asper a victim of his own vision

Stadium schmozzle partly his fault, but there are several guilty parties

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2010 (3027 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

David Asper in many ways has been his own worst enemy in these stadium proceedings.

But before we feed him to the lions, let's make sure everyone gets their fair share of blame.

This project should have always been publicly funded, but taxpayer aversion thrust Asper on stage. He came willingly and for a time, with great effect.

If his role is truly to end soon, so be it. But he shouldn't be made the goat.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2010 (3027 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

David Asper in many ways has been his own worst enemy in these stadium proceedings.

But before we feed him to the lions, let's make sure everyone gets their fair share of blame.

It seems David Asper may have fumbled the ball, but at least he got the ball rolling.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

It seems David Asper may have fumbled the ball, but at least he got the ball rolling.

This project should have always been publicly funded, but taxpayer aversion thrust Asper on stage. He came willingly and for a time, with great effect.

If his role is truly to end soon, so be it. But he shouldn't be made the goat.

Certainly Asper has made some errors in this deal and they have come to overshadow all the good he has done in terms of getting this project to the plate.

From the beginning, the complexity of the financing package and lack of up-front money from Asper has put this arrangement in peril. More importantly it has robbed Asper and his Creswin lieutenants of any real power and as a result, no one is steering the ship.

Any number of hands are on the wheel but no one can make a decision. So we've watched this project careen about, first in circles and now in wild, unpredictable spurts.

But Asper is not a villain, as some have portrayed him. A dreamer? Certainly. Cursed with ego? Yep. Obsessed with controlling the Winnipeg Blue Bombers? One would have to assume so or why would he be willing to take such a massive financial risk, not to mention putting himself in the line of fire from pundits and public alike.

Zeal

In his zeal to acquire the Bombers and have a new stadium in which they could prosper and eventually compete on a level playing ground with the rest of the CFL, Asper let the details slide while his vision soared.

Creswin, you'll remember, originally estimated they could build a stadium for $115 million. Along with that estimate came a list of specifics and amenities. Many looked at the dollar figure and the specs and said, "No way."

Fair enough. Asper has admitted a thorough cost evaluation was never completed and the estimate was rough at best. So no one was surprised when Creswin handed over an information packet last week and word came out that the project would come in at a cost somewhere north of $160 million.

Shouldn't the rest of the stakeholders — the province, the city, the Blue Bombers and the University of Manitoba — have demanded a detailed estimate? Of course.

The immediate reaction has been to flay Asper for all of this project's ills. He deserves his portion — just not the whole pie.

Take the stadium canopy, which has become a major source of contention in this debate. No doubt, Asper wishes he'd never heard of the damn thing.

Creswin included it in original drawings and specifics. It turns out the canopy will cost in the neighbourhood of $30 million. Who knew?

Will it drastically reduce noise pollution? Maybe. Will people be dry when it rains? No.

Are we willing to pay $30 million for a feature that Asper contends is mostly cosmetic? Probably not.

But the problem is people believed they were getting it and now some feel it's intrinsic to the project. Taking it out has become problematic. It's an example of Asper's passion getting ahead of due diligence. Yes, it's a strategic error. Yes, it's an example of poor planning. No, it's not attempted larceny, as some have suggested.

The rising costs of this project don't all fall at Asper's feet. It's easy to forget the projected cost of $115-million comes from a budget put together back in 2008.

Construction costs, using Asper's numbers, have risen by 30 per cent. Who is to blame for the foot-dragging? Certainly the funding package which hinged on Asper's ability to develop the land where the current stadium sits has played a role.

We would argue this should have been a public project from the beginning. Strong political leadership could have minimized inflation and we'd already be in a new stadium.

The extra 75,000 square feet of stadium area cited last week as a major driver in rising costs for the project does not come under Asper's purview.

The U of M, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multi-use bubble needed extra space. According to the construction bible Yardsticks for Costing, recreation facilities are built in the neighbourhood of $237 a square foot.

By that standard, this project was hit with an extra $17 million in costs that Asper had no role in. If one uses the $300 per square foot some have been quoting on this project, the number shoots above $20 million.

No one is really in control of this project, so Creswin had no power to push back and say, "We can't take on extras that will drive up cost."

This deal will have a few more twists and turns before it's all said and done and David Asper may or may not have a seat at the table when dinner is finally served.

Having Asper in the final picture or not matters little. This is about getting a new stadium for the Blue Bombers. Nothing else. Removing Asper from the picture might end up being part of the solution.

But he should be thanked for his time and his vision if not his execution.

And the blame? There's enough of that to be spread around.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

 

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