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Watching the Great Stadium Debate lurch towards its inevitable conclusion, one thing has become crystal clear.
These are no longer your grandfather’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Heck, they’re not even your dad’s.
Just 20 years ago, the board of directors of this community owned institution didn’t have the footballs to challenge its own head coach and GM.
Today, it’s ready to commit tens of millions of dollars towards a new stadium.
Easily the ballsiest move this franchise has ever made, this step became necessary when the team’s supposed white knight, David Asper, fell off the horse he rode in on, unable to deliver the $115-million playpen he’d promised, either on budget or with a cheque.
That same stadium is now going to cost $180-$190 million.
The Bombers’ share, an estimated $70 million, is about 12 times the debt that threatened to cripple this franchise a decade ago.
So how in the name of Jeff Reinebold can a mom-and-pop operation like this make a commitment like that?
Obviously, the rules of the game have changed. Mom and pop are long gone, replaced by bigger thinkers on a board that’s barging headfirst into a future of long-term community ownership in a community-owned facility.
“To protect the integrity and viability of the football club is a first priority,? board chairman Bill Watchorn said, Friday. “And that we have done.?
The Bombers are expected to pay off the $70 million, plus interest, over a long period, probably 30 to 40 years. There should even be enough money to create a contingency fund to maintain and repair the new digs, a serious issue in the current stadium.
It’s all spelled out in a business plan some eight months in the making, which we’ll get a peek at early next week, when this deal is unveiled.
Not as much as you might think.
New facilities are like blood transfusions for sports organizations, and you don’t have to look outside Manitoba to see the evidence.
The Moose and Goldeyes have seen huge increases in revenue in their new buildings, and are making money hand over fist. The Bombers, with their history and deep-rooted following, will enjoy the same resurgence.
Of course, the community investment here is on a bigger scale.
Taxpayers picked up almost half the cost ($9 million) of the ball park and close to one-third of the price ($40 million) of the downtown rink.
The new stadium is getting a $15 million grant from the province and around $7 million from the city. The bulk of the funding (approximately $90 million) is being fronted by the province, which will recoup our dollars through taxes from any new development at the Polo Park site, which currently generates no revenue.
Cue the caterwauling from the far right, and those against taxpayer funded anything.
“I saw that at the MTS Centre, I saw it with the Goldeyes, I saw it when they built the Provencher Bridge — there are people who don’t want to do anything,? Watchorn said. “If you accept the fact we need a new stadium, and the Bisons need a new stadium as well, killing two birds with one stone is a good idea. It’s going to be significantly used by the public at large, outside of the Bombers and Bisons.?
That debate will, no doubt, continue.
As for whether or not the Bombers are getting in too deep, it seems they don’t really have a choice. The status quo wasn’t an option.