Asper's grand plan

ROSS ROMANIUK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

A retail play book, of sorts, for David Asper's drive to score Winnipeg a new football stadium was publicly unveiled yesterday, though the clock is ticking on the business magnate's dream.

Asper, heir apparent to ownership of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has another year to sign at least a couple of big corporate players to anchor a Polo Park shopping complex that would finance the new facility.

And if that plan fails, immediate hopes for the new stadium at the University of Manitoba will likely be sidelined.

Following a one-year extension granted by the CFL team's board, Asper has unveiled designs for The Elms Collection -- the 650,000-sq.-ft. upscale shopping complex he's planning for the 24-acre site of Canad Inns Stadium, once that venue is demolished under his proposal.

"It's the trend in retail," Asper said of the open-air "lifestyle centre" whose revenue would pay for construction of the U of M stadium, and for operation of the Winnipeg Football Club.

"The idea is to create basically a little village, where you can walk around in a high degree of safety -- light and open -- and the walkways are all going to be covered. They've got heaters in them -- so no snow or ice. And easy parking -- valet if you want to use it. There will be a centre court with programming."

Creswin Properties Inc., a development firm affiliated with the Asper family, has "letters of intent" signed by two major U.S. retailers which would become anchor tenants.

'Softer' economy

However, because of what Bomber chairman Ken Hildahl described as the "softer" economy of the past year, the firms -- Asper refused to name them -- are continuing to study the Winnipeg market before signing leases necessary to make the Elms project, and the $135-million stadium development, viable.

The Bomber board's previous deadline of this past Wednesday has been extended to the end of September next year.

"But with that comes an obligation on Creswin to really start mapping the future out, and showing people where this is going," Hildahl said, adding Asper's progress on the retail strategy, and its layout designs, are "encouraging" in pushing the plan forward.

"This actually shows in fairly good, graphic detail, how it's going to present itself and what it's going to do for the city. And it really does add to the excitement in the project."

The delay pushes the opening of the 30,000- to 40,000-seat campus stadium -- which the Bombers and U of M Bisons would share -- back at least a year to 2012.

Provincial and federal funding commitments of $20 million and $15 million, respectively, remain on the table for the project, which is also slated to build and upgrade U of M athletic facilities.

Asper stressed that he wants more than "the usual suspects" among retailers, to finance the best possible stadium for Blue Bomber fans.

"We had a vision, and we're going after it," he said at Canad Inns Stadium.

"We could have developed a lesser shopping centre on this site that would have delivered lesser revenue, that would have yielded a lesser facility. And one thing has been absolutely clear from all the fans -- what we've said from the beginning: Do it right, and do it once. Get it right the first time."

ross.romaniuk@sunmedia.ca


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