'$160M cost too low'

ROSS ROMANIUK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

WINNIPEG -- The cost of Winnipeg's planned CFL stadium is very possibly on the rise from its currently projected $160 million, says a local expert who finds the situation "worrying."

Ian Hudson, a University of Manitoba economics professor who has researched the public financing of various professional sports teams and facilities, said Tuesday Winnipeg's stadium project could bring the city an "attractive" facility for the public and for the Blue Bombers.

He added, though, that the pending development "has a lot of worrying elements" in its price tag recently growing to at least $160 million from an original estimate of $115 million -- and as even that higher sum is falling far below what stadiums of similar size are projected to cost elsewhere in Canada.

"What accounts for the difference here? How come we're managing to put together something that's particularly, shall we say, economical? And are those numbers realistic? We've already seen the original number we were told is completely incorrect. What about this new number? Is that also going to be incorrect?" Hudson said.

"One of two things has to happen -- either you can bring it in for a lower cost than other places are spending, and it's going to be cut-rate ... or the costs are going to escalate."

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are considering construction of a Regina stadium priced at upward of $400 million, while the Edmonton Eskimos have begun upgrading their 32-year-old Commonwealth Stadium for more than $100 million -- not far off what Winnipeg officials have said a new facility here would cost.

In Vancouver, B.C. Place -- home of the Lions -- is undergoing an extensive retrofit costing about $560 million.

As well, Hudson, who teaches a course on the economics of professional sports, suggests it seems almost certain David Asper and his Creswin Properties will end up playing a smaller part in the stadium expenditure than had been initially announced, while the public sector carries the ball further.

"From Day 1, it seemed to be headed in this direction. So I'm certainly not surprised by what's happened, in terms of the reduction in private-sector involvement," he said.

"And now, it looks like the whole thing might be publicly financed.

"My issue isn't necessarily that public financing of a stadium is always a terrible idea. But what is worrying about the way this is done, is that the way it was originally sold is very different than what we've ended up with now."

Despite the game plan becoming more of a financial and political risk for Mayor Sam Katz and Premier Greg Selinger, Hudson expects the project to proceed.

"Politically, it would be incredibly difficult to pull back at this point," Hudson said.


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