August 10, 2020

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Opinion

Time to punt Asper out?

We taxpayers will be footing bill when all's done

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/11/2010 (3566 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Construction continued on the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium at the University of Manitoba last month. The cost will only go up.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Construction continued on the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium at the University of Manitoba last month. The cost will only go up.

It should come as no jaw-dropping news that, turns out, the projected cost of building a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is now upwards of $160 million and counting.

Of note, the "and counting" part is pivotal, as no matter what David Asper's Creswin Properties has ballparked for the new ballpark, the price is only going to rise moving forward.

Those are the two unavoidable realities of the stadium project that aren't negotiable: Winnipeg needs a new football stadium and it's going to cost more with each passing day.

Unfortunately, those are the only two constants in the deal. Everything else has changed in the many years since Asper embarked on his personal mission to construct new digs for his favourite football team.

The designs have changed. Locations have been proposed and shot down. The financial structure of the deal has evolved and devolved. The original plan is almost unrecognizable.

Still, the Bombers need a new stadium. Still, the price rises unabated.

Now the stakeholders -- essentially the city and the province (a.k.a. the taxpayer) -- will have stark choices: share the increased cost -- up significantly from the initial $115-million estimate -- or get out the scissors and start cutting.

Since few people have an intimate knowledge of what can be cut from the stadium design -- outside from, say, the partial roof -- it's impossible for intelligent public debate on that particular aspect of the deal. But we can say this much: If the original $115 million seemed like a bare-bones building, one can only imagine what the bargain-basement version might resemble.

Meanwhile, no one seems to have a hot clue whether Asper can repay $75 million in bridge financing by developing the current Canad Inns site into a retail project that was supposed to be the economic engine to fund the project in the first place. Of course, Asper insists he can hold up his end of the bargain, which would allow him to eventually gain ownership of the franchise.

But the public belief that Asper, no matter how well-meaning, can turn his never-ending optimism into financial reality is fading fast. Come on, it was going to be a reach in the first place. The economic malaise and subsequent spike in projected costs have, to use a football metaphor, turned a 45-yard field goal attempt into a 50-yarder into the wind.

Look, there comes a point where you just have to punt. This was never supposed to be about David Asper owning the Bombers, it was supposed to be about replacing a weathered, 50-year-old stadium, whether anybody likes it or not.

It's why you build new bridges. It's why you build new schools. At a certain point, it doesn't become a debate.

But how much it costs and who pays is always going to be a contentious issue. If the money is going to come from the taxpayer, with no guarantee Asper can repay the "loan," then the process is going to have to become much more transparent, and fast.

Because all the dithering over this project -- don't build it here, don't build it there, don't build it anywhere -- might be necessary, but it's only driving up the bill that Fred and Martha Winnipegger are going to have to pay. It's happening already. Asper proposes a $115-million project that has suddenly become $160 million and now the provincial and city tall foreheads have to decide whether to cover the overrun.

At some point, serious consideration has to be given to eliminating the middleman (a.k.a. Asper) entirely and just build the thing already. Or sit around staring at each other waiting for the cost to rise to $200 million.

Those are the options. But you can say this about Asper: At least he's trying. Where are the supposed leaders -- Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz -- who have been practically invisible on the stadium project of late?

Perhaps they'll say they were simply waiting for Asper's numbers, since it's supposed to be his project, after all.

Well, it appears the numbers are in and they're not good. They won't be any better tomorrow.

The time has come, perhaps belatedly, to either pitch in with Asper or move on entirely.

If taxpayers are going to get stuck with the cheque -- surprise, surprise -- they should at least decide who gets to sit at the table, too.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Randy Turner

Randy Turner
Reporter

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

Read full biography

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