Winnipeg approves plans for new $190-million Blue Bombers stadium

A new 33,000-seat football stadium in Winnipeg cleared its final hurdle December 15 when city council approved a plan to build the $190-million facility with taxpayer money. “Some councillors have said this is a good deal. With all due respect, I disagree. It’s a great deal,” Mayor Sam Katz said.

But the anticipated new home for the Canadian Football League Winnipeg Blue Bombers has created controversy. The project comes at a time when the city is struggling to meet its road repair budget and the Manitoba government, which is putting up most of the money, is in the midst of five consecutive deficit years.

The stadium is already under construction at the University of Manitoba in the city’s south end and is due to open in the spring of 2012. It will replace the 55-year-old Canad Inns Stadium west of downtown, which officials say would need millions of dollars in maintenance to keep operating.

The new stadium originally was supposed to cost $115 million and be funded primarily by real estate developer David Asper, who would in turn take ownership of the community-owned team. But as projected costs rose, Asper and the two levels of government disagreed over who would put up the extra cash.

Asper was soon out of the equation, and the province, the city, the Bombers and the University of Manitoba rushed to put a new deal together before December 15, the day when construction costs guaranteed by contractors were set to expire. The result was a flurry of meetings and quick approvals that left city politicians feeling that the public was being left out of a secretive deal.

The agreement calls for the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg to pay for the stadium up front, then have the community-owned team repay $85 million over 44 years. The team has required taxpayer bailouts in the past, but feels it will be a money-maker in the new stadium thanks to luxury boxes, naming rights and other items. Premier Greg Selinger has said the government will recoup the rest of the money through taxes generated by the sale of the old stadium site and development of now-empty commercial land around it.

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