Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 12, 2014
Water woes now plague the fledgling existence of the expensive, tax-funded jewel of the Prairies.
This, only a handful of days after the provincial government announced a $3-million upgrade to Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field, and a $4-million local investment to enhance a one-year-old building.
Members of the media spent the better part of this past week attempting to build a story out of a blockade as Blue Bombers general manager Wade Miller stymied any opportunity to get into the facility to survey the damage.
Although the Bombers have a long-term plan in place to take the facility off the taxpayers’ hands, in the present it is still very much funded by the tax dollar, and by proxy should be — at the very least — open to allowing media to survey the damage and tell the story to their readers or viewers.
The timing of this revelation could not have been worse for the NDP government and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, since both are desperately seeking good news stories as the NDP is currently mired in battling the dredges of apologetic ministers and Katz is still knee-deep in frozen pipes and angry homeowners who have been without water for weeks at a time.
At the time of completion, the stadium was a modern-day Manitoba marvel and, although full of cost overruns, both governments could hang their hat on the fact that it was finally complete and operational.
One has to be left wondering whether the damage to the stadium had begun prior to the government’s flashy photo-op with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, and whether this scuttle of “enhancement” dollars would actually be earmarked for repairs to the facility while the Bombers awaited insurance claims — or clawbacks taken from the designers or construction companies for the faulty execution of the facility.
If this is the case, then the taxpayers funding the facility, at the very least, deserve the truth on both the price tag for repairs and the knowledge of who may end up eating the lion’s share of the costs for enhancements in hosting the 2015 Grey Cup.
Instead, we are offered swift action from a Bombers organization running a well-timed blocking scheme — barring media and those within government access to a taxpayer-funded facility in a veiled attempt to cover what is undoubtedly worse than a “little bit of water.”
The damage is unfortunate. But even more unfortunate is the fact that if all insider accounts are correct, the price tag will realistically skyrocket past the half-million-dollar mark initially passed among members of the media.
This damage will have some coverage through insurance on the property, but further upgrades to keep the problems from reoccurring may be on the onus of a financially strapped organization or the taxpayers of this province.
It does not show well that a project that had such a cost overrun to begin with is now is returning to the well. Furthermore, it does not provide a great deal of public confidence when the mayor of Winnipeg is very pointed in his criticism of the building, its plans, operations and its access publicly.
This media swirl and costly fix also sullies the fanfare that was the announcement of Winnipeg hosting an upcoming Grey Cup and a possible Heritage Classic game. Hosting the Grey Cup is a financial boon for the city — not so much the rest of the province — where inevitably some tax dollars are going towards funding $7 million in hosting and building improvements for the event.
There is also always swift mention of the local financial impact. Most economists agree those numbers are not usually as grandiose as the original dollar value suggests. But Miller stated the team would see an economic impact of close to $4 million on the game, with local establishments, hoteliers and the like taking a piece of the pie through visitors to the city.
This timing shows a troubling balance between access to operations and the accountability of dollars from the public coffers. The stadium, however shiny in the grand scheme of things, still is mired with some major flaws that need to be rectified before it can be considered an unquestioned success. Allowing an open line of communication would serve only to help some of the struggles the team or the operations of the stadium may be facing.
With all this said, the stadium, if maintained, is a tremendous addition to the campus of the University of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg and by proxy hopefully those Manitobans who will continue to access it for entertainment and sport.
Investors Group Field was a new beginning for sport in Winnipeg and this province, and much like the MTS Centre has the potential to be a catalyst for future opportunity. We can hope, though, in building on that future opportunity, there is a plan in place at the very least to alleviate any further problems and costs associated with poor planning.