Blue stadium hopes seem pie in the sky

Work has to begin on one of the overhangs, the lower bowl or even the field itself. We'll believe...

Work has to begin on one of the overhangs, the lower bowl or even the field itself. We'll believe it when we see the Blue Bombers playing games there in September. (QMI AGENCY)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

WINNIPEG - This time they really mean it.

After taking two unsuccessful cracks at the opening date of their new home, the Blue Bombers have pegged Sept. 21 as the absolute, drop-dead day for taking possession.

Cross their hearts and hope to die.

But proving once again they just can’t resist a pair of rose-coloured glasses when they see it, the Bombers say if all goes really, really well down at the U of M, they’ll get in 12 days earlier, for the Sept. 9 Banjo Bowl.

From what I saw at the construction site, Wednesday, and from hearing the observations of construction industry experts, that still looks a little pie-in-the-sky.

That magnificent, partial roof on the west side that’s caused so many problems due to the wind? They still have to build another one covering the east side stands.

They still have to dig down another seven feet or so to finish the concrete for the lower bowl.

And we haven’t even talked about building the field.

Don’t get me wrong — from what I can tell the new place is going to be pretty impressive.

I just remain skeptical it’ll see a pass thrown in anger before October, or this season at all.

As for the $190-million price tag, it remains guaranteed — sort of.

Costs could actually be closer to $200 million when all is said and done, but the Bombers are picking up the extra tab, adding some bells and whistles they feel are essential.

Like those electronic ribbon boards that flash messages from sponsors, and vastly improved concessions.

Why these basics weren’t part of the original plan is curious, but the Bombers say they’re going the extra mile at no additional cost to taxpayers.

“The stadium’s on its original budget — it’s a guaranteed maximum price,” chairman Bill Watchorn said. “What we’re doing is enhancements that we want. And we’re covering that. It could be up to $8 million. We’ve already budgeted $3 million.”

They can afford it, too.

Because the community-owned team has reworked its deal with the provincial government, the one that calls for the Bombers to pay off $85 million of the stadium’s cost over 40 years.

“Our original plan and commitment to the government was if we took possession of the stadium June 1, we would make the first payment on the loan in 2013,” Watchorn said. “Because we’re taking possession in September, our loan obligation starts in 2014 — one year later.”

What the average leather-lunged, beer-drinking pigskin fan wants to know is what the place is going to look like when it’s done.

Now that I’ve been inside, I can safely say it’s going to be a treat.

The wide-open concourses, the rolling canopies, the two video screens and what looks like great sight lines from anywhere — I’m guessing this place will be pretty special.

“It’s spectacular — it takes my breath away,” is how Watchorn put it. “Look at the size of it, the scale of it. Compared to the old stadium, the best seats are going to be in the corners. Just like in hockey.”

And just like the Jets this past year, it’s going to create quite the buzz in this town.

But on this day, the only buzz was the sound of electric saws and pounding hammers.

And the little voice in the back of my mind that won’t stop wondering if the Bombers will be called for yet another false start, and eventually announce they won’t play here until 2013.

“Is that a possibility?” chief operating officer Jim Bell repeated. “Based on the information we have in hand, and more will be known in the middle of July, but the best information we have collectively ... Sept. 21. But our focus is to do everything we can to get in on Sept. 9.”

Hut-one, hut-two...


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