Plan B for stadium

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Nobody's ever wanted to talk about it.

But they never said it didn't exist.

Because it does.

If David Asper's proposal to build a new football stadium in south Winnipeg falls through, there is a Plan B that would see the community-owned team go it alone.

And a source close to the Blue Bombers board of directors says it might be time to revisit the plan if Asper, as expected, formally asks for an extension to his end-of-September deadline to get the lease commitments needed to begin construction.

As the Sun reported Monday, the board will likely grant Asper's real estate company, Creswin Properties, at least a six-month extension to attract retailers at the Polo Park site. Those lease commitments are needed for him to begin construction of the stadium at the University of Manitoba.

UNCERTAINTY

The team, though, can't have uncertainty about the project swirling around it indefinitely.

That's where Plan B comes in.

The subject of quiet discussions going as far back as a year and a half, the plan would see the Bombers build a new facility in phases, on the current site.

It wouldn't be nearly as ambitious on the retail side, but Phase 1 would see the construction of some retail space in the parking lot serving the current stadium.

When enough revenue is raised, Phase 2 would see the off-season demolition and reconstruction of one side of grandstands, without an interruption in play.

The source says the same thing would happen in the next phase, with the other side of the stadium.

The end result: over a period of around 10 years the Bombers would get a new home at the current site.

Neither Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer nor board chairman Ken Hildahl would return calls seeking comment.

But a source says the plan is very doable and the debt level acceptable, if it's spread out over time.

The club would probably be looking for a similar level of government support to Asper's plan, which calls for $35 million from the province and Ottawa.

While the Bombers control the current site (Asper's plan would see him pay the city market value for it), a new agreement with all three levels of government would likely have to be reached.

HURDLES

There may be some hurdles to clear on the federal side, since the $15 million from Ottawa is earmarked for improvements to adjacent facilities at the U of M, fulfilling "community access" requirements.

The issue of how much time to grant Asper's proposal -- and when to cut bait on it -- could also be a contentious one within the Bomber board.

The stadium issue has already been hanging over the club's head for a couple of years. If the U.S. economy doesn't recover for another two or three years, potentially delaying Asper's plan that long, can the Bombers wait?

In addition, each year that goes by increases the chance the old stadium will need a major repair.

Add it all up, and the situation will get urgent soon enough.

Nearly everyone agrees this city needs a new facility sooner or later.

The Bombers, in their existing model, only make money when things go their way: a good team plus good weather equals good crowds and a modest profit.

But the franchise will have a tough time competing without more revenue. And there won't be more revenue without a new facility.

That's why there always had to be a Plan B.

With all due respect to David Asper and his ambitious vision to take over this team and move it into a new home, this is the time to begin talking about it.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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