Crossroads for Blue

The construction of a 30,000-seat, expandable, partially covered football stadium will be the focus...

The construction of a 30,000-seat, expandable, partially covered football stadium will be the focus of a feasibility study in Winnipeg. (Number Ten Architectural Group)

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

The three wise men came bearing gifts of a new football stadium, a hotel and a water park.

And now, the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers are only a feasibility study away from having a brand new home.

The construction of a 30,000-seat, expandable, partially covered football stadium -- along with a hotel and water park -- on the western edge of Winnipeg will be the focus of a feasibility study that will be conducted over the next six months.

Canad Inns president and CEO Leo Ledohowski, Red River Exhibition Association CEO Paul Robson and Winnipeg Football Club board of directors chairman Gene Dunn unveiled the plans of grandeur at a news conference yesterday.

When the study is complete, the Bombers, who only five short years ago were on the brink of extinction due to economic woes, will know whether they will be a part of a new $165-million "destination complex" on the Red River Exhibition Grounds, or if they will simply renovate 51-year-old Canad Inns Stadium, their current home.

"This is an important day in our history," Dunn said. "This initiative will provide our club with a snapshot of what could be in our future."

The initial plans for the stadium include a roof that would cover all of the upper-deck seats and some of the lower-bowl ones, with open space at the south end of the facility for a Canad Inns hotel that would overlook the field.

You can bet the Bombers will push for an enclosed structure, but if that doesn't happen, one source at yesterday's event said the idea of heated seats has been bandied about.

"We would prefer to have a covered facility for our climate, and for the comfort of our fans," Dunn said. "It would also enable us to hold other events in the off months."

Bombers placekicker Troy Westwood isn't sure what he would feel if the project went ahead.

"I would have mixed emotions on it, just because I grew up in Winnipeg and ever since I was five years old have been attending Bomber games in that stadium," the 13-year veteran said yesterday from Toronto.

"I like tradition, old stadiums and things like that, but I completely understand, financially, why the club would want to explore that possibility.

"There's no question that a great deal of Winnipeg Stadium is old and not as fan friendly as a new stadium would be."

The current condition of Canad Inns Stadium is a big reason why fans could be attending Bomber games in a new stadium as early as 2008. The seats are cramped, the parking lot is crumbling, the washrooms are aging, the concessions are sub-par and there is even structural work that would need to be done.

Bombers president and CEO Lyle Bauer said renovations to Canad Inns Stadium could cost as much as $20 million.

"We are keeping an open mind," Dunn said. "We know that we can't live in the house we're in forever. It's over 50 years old and there's going to be significant investment required to bring it up to grade.

"Now, are we better off doing that or taking the value of that property and investing it into a new facility? Those are the things that we need to answer."

As for the location of the stadium, Dunn believes Bomber fans won't be put out by its non-central location.

"This is Winnipeg," Dunn said. "You're never too far from anything, and with the perimeter highway system, I think it's more convenient for people to get from A to B."


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