Move it indoors

(Winnipeg Sun/Number Ten Architectural Group)

(Winnipeg Sun/Number Ten Architectural Group)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

Winnipeg is embarking on a new era in professional sports.

Never before have our three existing teams been healthier -- two have new facilities and the third is looking at building one.

So where will the future take us?

Sun sports columnist Paul Friesen is taking a three-part look at the next 10 years of pro sports in our city.

Today, he grabs hold of football, running right at controversial issues like the proposed new stadium and potential private ownership of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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Bomber fans, get ready to say goodbye to the only stadium you've ever known -- and say hello to indoor football.

It's still months before a feasibility study on a new facility is completed, but high-ranking team officials are already convinced where the Bombers are headed.

"I don't feel we can stay in the old stadium," board chairman Gene Dunn told The Sun. "If we're going to have professional football in Winnipeg, we're going to need a new facility. My vision would be a covered facility sometime within the next 10 years."

Dunn isn't a lone voice on the sidelines, either.

Breaking the huddle with him are two other key players in the club's future: president/CEO Lyle Bauer and past-chairman David Asper.

Even Bauer, an old lineman known for his toughness, says it's time to move this team indoors.

"The purist in me says no, but the economics say yes," Bauer said. "You can't invest that kind of money in a facility that can only be utilized for a certain number of days, and that's so weather dependent.

"It was an absolute summer from hell (last year). We just can't afford to be that dependent on it."

So Winnipeg Stadium, with its cramped, plastic seats, antiquated washrooms and concessions and bombed-out parking lot, is on its way out.

Exactly what replaces it, where it'll be and how it'll be paid for, we'll find out over the next year or two.

EXPECTED HIT

The expected hit could easily reach $150 million. The damage if we don't build it: the slow death of a 75-year-old institution.

At least, that's the view from the top.

"If it doesn't happen, we're not going to be in the position to compete," Bauer said. "Toronto's going to have a new stadium. Other places have pretty good facilities ... Winnipeg has an opportunity here to make a huge difference. And make it into something that nobody else has."

While that may sound a little pie-in-the-sky, this is all about the bottom line.

Sports fans here are getting used to being comfortable, thanks to the new, downtown homes of the Moose and Goldeyes.

But boosting attendance is only part of the equation. The Bombers must also find new ways to make money.

That's why the franchise is talking with the Red River Exhibition about a multi-use facility, able to generate revenue year-round through concerts and trade shows.

"We've got two extremely wealthy owners in Toronto, and they're partnering with the University (York) for other revenue streams," Dunn said, referring to Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon. "As long as we've got wealthy owners in the league ... we're going to be sitting out there with a non-competitive team. And Winnipeggers won't stand for that."

No, winning isn't always about the money in the CFL.

But consider this: it's been 15 years since Winnipeg won the Grey Cup. Toronto's new owners did it in their first full season.

Here in the West, B.C. is on the rise, Edmonton is one of the richest teams in the league and there are committed new owners in Calgary.

Being left behind, it would appear, are Saskatchewan and Winnipeg.

"The sports fans and the entertainment fans deserve more," Bauer said. "And right now, we can't give it to them."

Nobody's going to give it to them -- they'll have to pay for it.

A decade from now, though, we think they'll have it.


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