A pigskin in a poke

TOM BRODBECK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

There's so little detail in yesterday's Canad Inns' proposal to build a new $265-million football stadium, it's hard to know what to think of it.

Except that, just like media mogul David Asper's $120-million stadium plan unveiled earlier this year, Canad Inns CEO Leo Ledohowski wants taxpayers to foot most of the bill.

Or at least that's what yesterday's vague proposal seems to imply.

Essentially, Ledohowski wants three things from taxpayers to make his plan work.

He wants a total of $80 million in cash upfront from the province and the federal government. He wants a $29-million tax break from the City of Winnipeg. He also wants -- and this is where it gets murky -- exclusive development and managing rights for some unspecified commercial venture where the stadium now stands. In other words, Ledohowski wants to use lucrative real estate owned by taxpayers to help pay for the cost of a new stadium.

"Excess cash flow" -- whatever that means -- from that development would provide an additional $90 million towards the cost of the stadium.

That gets us to $199 million. Supposedly, a new stadium would generate an extra $8.3 million in annual profits, raising an additional $107 million.

This is a very fuzzy proposal. And there are a lot of leap-of-faith assumptions in it.

'BLUE BOMBER PLAZA'

Canad Inns says it would build a "Blue Bomber Plaza" on the entire Maroons Road site. It would be a "commercial redevelopment" owned by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But Canad Inns would be the exclusive developer and manager of the site. That could mean anything. Who controls the profits? How much of the net revenues go into financing the new stadium?

The proposal assumes $8.3 million in new stadium profits, although it doesn't say where that revenue would come from. Very little of it would come from football games, if recent history is any indication.

The Bombers posted on-field operating losses in each of its last two years. The only reason the club ended 2006 in the black was because of Grey Cup revenues.

Even if a new domed stadium for 10 home games did generate greater ticket sales -- and it probably would -- higher revenues wouldn't be anywhere near $8.3 million.

More conventions and monster truck shows? Perhaps. But who picks up the operating losses should the stadium lose money? It doesn't say.

Canad Inns also says the proposed stadium would hold 30,000 seats, which is rather small.

The Bombers already attract 30,000 fans to some home games. Shouldn't the goal be to attract more? And what about hosting another Grey Cup? There were 45,000 fans at last year's Grey Cup in Winnipeg. Canad Inns say their proposed stadium could be expanded to 45,000 for a Grey Cup game.

A temporary, 50% seat expansion in a domed stadium? I'd like to see the drawings.

There's a lot this proposal doesn't cover, which makes it very difficult to analyze.

What we do know is the key to any successful new or refurbished stadium has to include tapping into the commercial value of where the stadium now stands.

The Blue Bombers signed a 50-year lease with the city a few years ago, giving it exclusive development rights to the land that surrounds it. Done right, that retail or other commercial development can produce enormous revenues to help pay for a new or refurbished stadium.

But it has to be a realistic proposal.

And taxpayers shouldn't be expected to pony up $80 million for a new stadium, especially when the team we're talking about is barely viable.

It just doesn't make sense.


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