Thursday, December 6, 2012
BOMBER FANS FIRST TO ENJOY STADIUM BOOM
CFL fans in four Canadian cities are looking forward to shiny new stadiums, packed with goodies that will make watching football more enjoyable and more expensive.
The only completed facility so far is in Winnipeg, where the Blue Bombers will open Investors Group Field for the 2013 season, a year behind schedule.
It's loaded with luxury boxes, fancy club seating and other amenities to fatten the bottom line of the team and lighten the wallets of fans.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will also have a change of scenery in 2013 as they demolish Ivor Wynne to build a smaller stadium for 2014. They'll play next season in temporary digs at the University of Guelph.
Unlike the Bombers, stuck with close to half the tab for their new home, the Ticats get a break because the $146-million stadium is a soccer venue for the 2015 Pan American Games. The federal government is picking up almost half, Ontario and the city the rest.
The City of Ottawa, meanwhile, also has committed to a new stadium "as early as 2014'' as part of its plan to re-enter the CFL.
And, after their dome dream died, the Saskatchewan Roughriders settled for a new $278-million field expected in 2017, now that a bid by an anti-stadium group to stall the project has fizzled.
The turf is already down and the final touches are being put on the new home of the Bombers, located on the grounds of the University of Manitoba, where it will also be home to the U of M Bisons.
At an expandable 33,500 seats, it's slightly larger than Canad Inns Stadium, located just west of Winnipeg's downtown for more than half a century. But it's more modern than the dated grandstand-style structure that let north-south winds roar down the field.
It follows a U.S.-style bowl configuration and, while there is no dome, seating areas are covered by massive, rippling steel canopies.
The Bombers had no trouble selling a record number of season tickets at their old field on the promise they would guarantee fans a seat in the new one.
But they then took a lot of flak when their optimistic construction schedule wasn't met, after winds stalled the installation of those massive beam-supported canopies. They had to play another season at Canad Inns, which they fortunately didn't tear down.
Fans scoffed but Bombers president Garth Buchko defended the original timetable and the construction company that produced it.
"No one could have predicted the winter wind that we had, the abnormal, above-normal temperatures that we've had,'' he said when the Bombers finally admitted their 2012 opening plan was a bust.
"I'm not laying the blame on Stuart Olson Dominion, they have done yeoman's work,'' he said of the construction outfit.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell insists he isn't worried about similar problems with the more modest stadium being built for his team. Ivor Wynne has to go before its replacement can be built.
"I think everybody is extremely confident this will come in on time and on budget,'' he says.
He also feels the downsized regular capacity of 24,000 - about 5,000 fewer than Ivor Wynne - is a good fit for the city.
Drawings show a traditional grandstand-style facility with open end zones and seating expandable to 40,000 or so for events like the Grey Cup or concerts.
"I think it's a perfect fit for us. . . We could have gone to a larger capacity. It would have decreased the fan experience in terms of all the amenities and everything we can do inside the stadium.
"We really feel strongly that a beautiful sold-out 24,000-seat stadium in Hamilton will secure us for a long time.''
Mitchell also wants to host another Grey Cup when the new stadium is built. The CFL's showcase event hasn't been held in Hamilton since 1996.
"We're looking forward to working with the city to bring a Grey Cup bid forward sooner rather than later,'' he said.
Ottawa has approved an ambitious redevelopment plan for Lansdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium that will also include retail space.
The city has been out of the CFL since the Renegades folded in 2006. Before that, the Rough Riders won nine Grey Cups in 120 years of football, 38 in the CFL as we know it now, before folding in 1996.
Problems with Frank Clair have at least been contributing factors in both franchise failures and helped stall re-entry, which originally was to have taken place two years ago.
"Now it's a go, we can look fans in the eye and basically say we're coming back to the nation's capital,'' CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in October after city council approved the project. "Now it's about building the stadium . . . it's all about construction timelines now to be ready for the summer of 2014.''
Jeff Hunt, co-owner of the as-yet-unnamed Ottawa franchise, is confident it will be built on time. The entire public-private cost of the project will be in the $450-million range, but that pays for more than just rebuilding Frank Clair.
Saskatchewan originally asked the federal government to contribute much of the up to $431 million it wanted to spend on a new domed stadium for the Roughriders.
The feds balked, saying they don't contribute to professional sports venues (despite Hamilton's back-door success) so a more modest $278-million plan was approved.
The province is providing an $80-million grant, the city $73 million and the Roughriders will raise $25 million. In addition, the province will provide a $100-million loan to be repaid over 30 years.
Construction is set to start in 2013 with the new stadium ready in 2017, according to the current timetable, but there isn't a firm plan on the drawing board right now.
It's expected to look a lot like the new Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, with covered seating areas but an open-air field.
"The sort of goal is to kind of keep the magic of a place like Mosaic Stadium and the fun that we've all enjoyed there, but kind of evolve it for the future,'' says architect Dipesh Patel.
© 2012 The Canadian Press