WINNIPEG — A new 33,000-seat football stadium in Winnipeg cleared its final hurdle Wednesday when city council approved a plan to build the $190-million facility with taxpayer money.
“Some councillors have said this is a good deal. With all due respect, I disagree. It’s a great deal,” Mayor Sam Katz said.
But the anticipated new home for the Canadian Football League Winnipeg Blue Bombers has created controversy. The project comes at a time when the city is struggling to meet its road repair budget and the Manitoba government, which is putting up most of the money, is in the midst of five consecutive deficit years.
“Most taxpayers feel the price is too high,” Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told council. “Many people want to sit in a new stadium, but more and more … are saying it’s a pricey proposition.”
The stadium is already under construction at the University of Manitoba in the city’s south end and is due to open in the spring of 2012. It will replace the 55-year-old Canad Inns Stadium west of downtown, which officials say would need millions of dollars in special maintenance over the next decade to keep operating.
The new stadium originally was supposed to cost $115 million and be funded primarily by real estate developer David Asper, who would in turn take ownership of the community-owned team. But as projected costs rose, Asper and the two levels of government disagreed over who would put up the extra cash.
Asper was soon out of the equation, and the province, the city, the Bombers and the University of Manitoba rushed to put a new deal together before Wednesday — the day when construction costs guaranteed by contractors were set to expire.
The result was a flurry of meetings and quick approvals in the last three days. That left some councillors feeling that the public was being left out of a secretive deal.
“The citizens want accountability. They want the details,” said Harvey Smith, one of two councillors who voted against the deal.
The agreement calls for the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg to pay for the stadium up front, then have the community-owned team repay $85 million over 44 years. The team has required taxpayer bailouts in the past, but feels it will be a money-maker in the new stadium thanks to luxury boxes, naming rights and other items.
Premier Greg Selinger has said the government will recoup the rest of the money through taxes generated by the sale of the old stadium site and development of now-empty commercial land around it. The agreement also stipulates that if the Bombers start failing financially, outside accountants will be brought in to turn things around and keep the loan repayments coming.
Winnipeg’s stadium will be open-air and feature a partial canopy to keep snow and sun off spectators. It will also be used by the University of Manitoba Bisons football squad and have an inflatable dome so that it can be used for indoor soccer and other community sports in the off-season.
Two other CFL cities are looking at new stadiums as well.
Regina wants to build a domed stadium to replace Mosaic Stadium at a price of at least $386 million. The Saskatchewan government has said it will not use general revenues to fund the project, but may tap into casino profits.
Hamilton is also under the gun to replace Ivor Wynne Stadium, built in 1930. The city plans to build a new facility by 2015 and has selected a site, but is still working out a cost estimate and a way to pay.