Asper guarantees it

PAUL FRIESEN, SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 2:44 AM ET

The final design is still up in the air, but David Asper has a few guarantees when it comes to his new football stadium.

It'll be more comfortable and more stylish, have better washrooms and concessions and there will be no mistaking it as the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"What will strike people is how partisan it's going to be," Asper said yesterday, as he announced an agreement with the three levels of government to build a $120-million facility at the University of Manitoba.

Our house

"This is going to be our house. And it's going to be the Bisons' house. When you get there, you're going to know you've come to a battle. And it's us against them. That's part of the fun of it."

A lifelong Bombers fan, Asper will become the team's owner early next year, assuming his plans to take over and redevelop the current stadium site at Polo Park remain on track.

The departure from 79 years of community ownership comes more than two years after the Bombers board sought private proposals for a new facility.

Board chair Ken Hildahl called it a "gut wrenching experience," one that led to an unavoidable conclusion: without a private owner spearheading the whole thing, the team wouldn't get the new stadium it needs to survive, long-term.

"We're a lot more comfortable now than we were 21/2 years ago," Hildahl said. "At that point it was just an emotional debate. Now it's based on logic. We've guaranteed this football team's not going anywhere. And the fans are going to have one very nice fan experience.

"We've achieved what we set out to achieve."

The plan calls for the Bombers and U of M Bisons to play the 2011 season in new digs that include 30,000 permanent seats and a host of improvements over the existing stadium. The preliminary design must still be priced out. But Asper says some things aren't negotiable.

"We need 80% fan coverage (from the weather)," he said. "We need complete wind blockage. We need more leg room. We need more concessions. We need better bathrooms and more accessible bathrooms. And we want a dynamic and partisan in-game experience."

Concession and gathering areas that show a panoramic view of the field, plus massive HDTV video screens, are also part of Asper's vision.

The deal includes an agreement that virtually guarantees the 79-year-old club remains in Winnipeg.

Asper is committing $10 million -- the price of the team, if you will -- as "insurance" should his plan fail, or should he pass away without a secession plan.

In that event, the franchise would fall under the control of a community board, which would use the funds to either find a new owner or have it revert to community ownership.

"We think we've covered off every eventuality," Hildahl said.

Asper says the plan is to make the Bombers a profitable, stand-alone venture -- albeit with his new retail development at Polo Park as its safety net, something it's never had before.

"Part of the problem with how the club has to operate is they've got to function as though there will be a day they've got nothing," Asper said. "If you take that away, and allow the club to start investing and building its fan base, it can be a good business."

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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