Interesting story today:
Asper seeks new stadium, stake in Blue
Pitch for part of CFL's Bombers could be ready by end of January
Wed Jan 3 2007
By Ed Tait and Bartley Kives
BUSINESS mogul David Asper is close to making a pitch to invest in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as part of a plan to build a new stadium for the 77-year-old Canadian Football League franchise.
The executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications is putting the finishing touches on a plan that would effectively end three quarters of a century of community ownership of the Winnipeg Football Club. But it would also provide long-term financial stability for the team he only recently helped bring back from the brink of bankruptcy.
Asper, who served as co-chairman of the 2006 Grey Cup festival and chaired the Bombers' board when the team faced financial disaster at the beginning of the decade, hopes to make his pitch to the team's current directors by the end of January.
Asper has already held preliminary discussions with Bomber president and CEO Lyle Bauer and board member Gene Dunn -- but is not prepared to reveal any details until the entire board gets a gander at his proposal.
"I seriously respect the members of the Bomber board who are going to have to consider and make this decision. It's not going to be an easy decision, although I think the proposal has many benefits for the community," Asper said on Tuesday from his home in Winnipeg.
"It's potentially a 50-year decision and you've got to consider what is in the best interest of the club, the community and the fans very carefully."
Although Asper would not reveal the details of his bid, sources close to the deal say it would see the football über-fan assume control of the club and partly fund the construction of a $100-million-plus football stadium and retail complex on the site of the current Canad Inns Stadium.
The existing structure, built in 1953, is considered obsolete because it lacks sufficient space for revenue-generating concessions and is not flexible enough to stage non-football events. The plan to replace it calls for the football team to continue holding games on the existing football field while a new stadium/retail complex is erected and potentially completed by the 2008 season.
The Asper proposal is also said to include benefits for amateur football. It would also depend on a substantial commitment from more than one level of government.
"David and I have met and one thing we both know is we want what's best for the football club for a sustainable future," Bombers president Bauer said Tuesday night from Calgary.
"The club recognizes, and it's in our business plans, that it has to change the way it does business and diversify. We have to have other revenue streams and we said from the beginning if there's going to be a new facility or a significantly refurbished facility, we'd be foolish to think it was all going to come from the public coffers and we'd be looking for private partners.
"The issue of ownership has to be discussed by the board, but I know it will certainly be open to partnership or investment opportunities. That's no secret."
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are currently owned and run by a non-profit organization managed by a board of directors. After facing bankruptcy in 2000, the team was bailed out by local businesses, the province and city, which also handed over the keys to Canad Inns Stadium in 2004.
Late that year, the team floated the idea of building a new hotel-and-stadium complex near the Red River Exhibition grounds. But the plan was met with deafening silence by the city and province, neither of which had any desire to fund a suburban development. On Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer declined to comment on the Asper proposal, which would presumably include a large financial commitment from the NDP government.
"We prefer to leave this discussion with the two principal negotiators," said a spokesman for the premier.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz also said it would be premature for him to comment on the Asper proposal before the Winnipeg Football Club has the chance to mull over the idea.
But it's unlikely the City of Winnipeg would contribute much capital toward a new stadium.
In late 2006, after the Asper proposal first surfaced, Katz repeatedly noted the city has already given the football club a 50-year lease on the stadium and the surrounding land, exemptions on property and business taxes and all the revenue from parking, concessions and naming rights.
"We've given them everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything," Katz said on Tuesday.
"At the same time, if an offer is on the table, we're prepared to listen. Any time an individual is prepared to invest (millions) in the city, that's a very positive statement."
Throughout 2006, Katz was embroiled in a dispute with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over a committee struck in 2000 to oversee the football team's financial restructuring.
In February, Bombers president Bauer and board members Dunn and Ken Hildahl felt the committee had served its purpose and dissolved the body. Katz called the move unilateral and illegal and has demanded the committee be reinstated. If the Bomber board accepts the Asper proposal, the dispute between Katz and the football club would effectively become moot.
CanWest Global executive vice-president David Asper -- the former chairman of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a huge football fan -- wants to invest in the 77-year-old Canadian Football League franchise as part of a plan to build a new stadium/commercial development on the site of what's now Canad Inns Stadium.
Why do the Bombers need a new stadium?
Built 54 years ago, Canad Inns Stadium is obsolete in terms of its flexibility to stage non-football events and generate revenue via concessions, retail and parking. And that doesn't bode well for the long-term viability of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who had a brush with bankruptcy in 2000 and require more revenue streams as player salaries continue to rise.
How much will it cost?
The new stadium will reportedly cost in excess of $100 million. Presumably, Asper would share the tab with the public sector.
What's in it for Asper?
Some form of a return on the retail investment, but more importantly, playing a role in the long-term survival of Winnipeg's CFL franchise.[url=http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/subscriber/local/story/3829757p-4431069c.html]http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/subscr ... 1069c.html[/url]