Bombers choose Asper

David Asper, vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp., discusses his plans for a new...

David Asper, vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp., discusses his plans for a new stadium for the Blue Bombers. (Sun Media/C. Procaylo)

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are one step closer to a new stadium -- and a private owner.

The Winnipeg Football Club announced yesterday it has decided to negotiate exclusively with David Asper's Creswin Properties Ltd. to redevelop the 54-year-old stadium and surrounding area in St. James.

"This is the start of a process," WFC chairman Ken Hildahl said. "It's a negotiating process. It's not a done deal. There's still a lot of tripwires."

The WFC chose Asper's $145-million proposal over Leo Ledohowski's $520-million plan, which included a domed stadium in St. Boniface. Its ultimate goal is to make the Bombers viable in the community for generations to come and, without going into detail, Hildahl said Asper's vision met that criteria.

"It was very clear in our minds that David's proposal led us in that direction," Hildahl said.

Asper's private-public plan calls for a new $120-million stadium (which requires $80 million of public money) and $25 million worth of retail space, but it also includes his taking ownership of the club.

The Bombers have been publicly owned since their inception in 1930, so that aspect -- along with what will happen to the team generations from now -- promises to be a focal point of negotiations.

"I don't want to get into our negotiation process or our tactics, but there's certain safeguards that we need to see put in place," Hildahl said.

"Those safeguards would ensure obviously that the team remain in Winnipeg, (and) that the interest of the fan and the community are well-served." Asper, the vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp. and a former WFC chairman, said he isn't willing to budge on the ownership issue.

"I'm putting up $40 million of my own money, plus another $25 million against the retail," he said. "The co-investors, which would be the public, actually get a guaranteed return through tax revenue.

"My money is totally at risk. So, as an investor, I simply take the view that I need to control my business destiny.

"... I'm not sure why the board would be even talking to me if this was a serious issue."

The sides hope to have a "binding letter of intent" by the end of May, and then Asper would have to approach the federal and provincial governments for $40 million each, which could be the biggest hurdle of all.

Ledohowski, the president of Canad Corp., said he's disappointed in the board's choice, particularly in its process in evaluating the proposals.

He suggested the board members have not been as open-minded as they should have been toward his dome stadium concept, which he pointed out exists with the Alerus Center and his newest Canad Inns project -- including a water park -- in Grand Forks, N.D.


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