Show us the money

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

So now we know why everything was so hush-hush six weeks ago, when we last looked into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' plans for a new stadium.

Nobody wanted to talk back then because, it turns out, they were a little further along than we thought.

Yesterday, they all wanted to talk, and they invited us out to listen, showed us an artist's drawing, even put a price tag on it.

$165 million.

Say it quickly and it won't hurt as much.

It's quite an ambitious proposal unveiled by the Bombers, the Red River Exhibition and local hotelier Leo Ledohowski. A hotel, water park, a ton of exhibition space and a 30,000-seat stadium anchoring it all.

There was just one thing missing in the presentation: the voice of the man who's been working on the idea longer than anybody.

It turns out Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer had visions of this day back when he left the grain business to take the job, nearly five years ago.

And wouldn't you know it, his key partner in the project is none other than Red River Ex boss Paul Robson -- the same man who helped bring Bauer to the Bombers as a player back in the 1980s.

They did all right back then, helping the team win its first Grey Cup in 22 years.

Pulling this off would make that win look like a game of Tiddly-Winks in the family rec room.

These days, of course, Bauer is fighting a more important battle, against throat cancer.

But that didn't stop him from getting in on what is sure to be a hot topic among local sports fans.

"This is extremely exciting," Bauer said in a telephone interview. "What this is doing is potentially setting a new benchmark for the attitude of Manitobans, in respect to promoting the city ... and creating something that no one else has."

In other words, this is more than just a new home for the football team, and if that sounds familiar, it's because we've been hearing it about the new downtown arena, too.

Anyone who watched Team Canada thrash the Finns on TSN Monday night got a peek at what that facility can do for this town.

Factor in the ball park, and it appears "this city's starting to roll," as Ledohowski put it, thanks to the movers and shakers in the sports community.

Some may wonder about the timing of the stadium proposal when we've barely caught our breath from building the Rink at Eaton's.

But anyone who follows sports knows there's no substitute for momentum.

"In many ways it turns what has been a can't-do attitude into a can-do attitude," Bauer said.

So can we do this?

And I say "we" because this thing will need taxpayer money if it needs any money at all.

Ledohowski says he'll foot the bill for the hotel/water park, estimated at $40-50 million. That still leaves some $120 million.

Remember the True North project? It came in at around $133 million, Joe Taxpayer coming up with $40 million of that.

Assuming the players wrangle a similar deal out of the feds, province and city -- and that's a big if -- we're left with $80 million.

$20-25 MILLION

The city land the current stadium sits on could be worth $20-25 million. Now, the Bombers didn't come right out and say they expect that money to go into the new facility, but they sure made overtures in that direction.

So that brings us down to $55 million, to be raised between the Bombers and the Red River Ex.

Don't forget, this is the same, community-owned football team that was nearly done in by a $5.5 million debt just a few years back.

So running to the bank and asking the teller for a $25-million loan is out of the question, we presume.

"That's a long ways down the road," Bauer said. "There's a variety of ways to acquire funds ... and you may have to acquire it from many different sources. The first thing is to see if it has legs."

We like what we see for starters.

But I want to see a whole lot more body before I buy it a drink.


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