The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Nouvelle Stadium for les Bombers Bleus?

Awright, skip the dog-and-pony show. The Blue Bombers have some new coaches. Blah blah blah.

Don't you want to know what happened to their big plans for a fancy new stadium?

Hold onto your hats.

More than a year ago the Bombers were beating the drums for a "destination complex" near Headingley which, they said, would include a 30,000 seat "climate-enhanced and expandable" football stadium, a 250 room hotel, a 40,000 square foot water park and a shiny new 200,000 square foot exhibition facility.

The idea, they said, was to have everything fit neatly in one large circular-shaped configuration around the football field. The cost of the extravaganza was guesstimated at about $165 million, give or take.

It was all going to be built on 450-acres of land known as Red River Exhibition Park, just off Portage Avenue West, near the perimeter. It would still technically be within Winnipeg city limits, even though well past the Perimeter Highway.

A quarter-of-a-million dollar feasibility study was commissioned to nail down the numbers and to jump-start the project. Estimated time-of-arrival: spring or summer of 2005.
... which turned into Fall, 2005
... then Winter, 2005
... and then
... silence.

Well, we can tell you the feasibility study exists. And it says the project is--- to quote the immortal words of the Mauro Report on a new arena for the lamented Winnipeg Jets---do-able. Sorta.

The bean-counters say the three-legged beast can walk. Remember, the planners said they were depending on the synergy of the project to give it life. Individually, a hotel, a stadium and a water-park are money-losers, even at the Red River Ex site. Only together can they support one another enough to make the plan work.

Feasibility is one thing. The kicker is getting the damn thing built in the first place.

The cost has climbed into the red seats, hovering in the range of $200 million. Who, exactly, is going to come up with that kind of money is something the study doesn't say.

The cost shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The hotel end of the deal is supposed to be privately financed by Canad Inns. But they've had a devil of a time getting another hotel project off the ground in Grand Forks in part because costs keep going up and up. The last time they delayed they said the price of concrete and steel was skyrocketing and they needed time to find more financial backing.

Hmm. A stadium... Concrete. Steel. Uh oh.

And there's still a lot of jockeying going on about the football stadium itself. There's a strong "dome" faction that wants more than a field that's just protected against the wind.

But a dome means more money. And money means politics above and beyond the board room.

Already the Bombers have a hint that a new stadium proposal will not be smooth sailing. In fact, that's a big reason the feasibility study is still in limbo.

Powerful people aren't happy about giving government money to a facility that appears to benefit Headingley more than Winnipeg, and which stands a good chance of sucking convention activity out of the heart of the city.

And that's why a new suitor is whispering sweet nothings into the ears of the Blue Bombers board.

That's right, gossip mongers. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are cheating on the Red River Ex.

Right now they are considering another offer.
One with synergy.
One that would see a new stadium (dome or no dome) built closer to downtown.
One that wouldn't threaten the Convention Centre.

Who's talking to the Bombers? We can't tell you. We don't know.

So, let's guess together.We hear that the newest proposal will provide a revenue stream that the Red River Ex can't, and that it will be located at a popular site which will win approval from major backers. Which leads us to winnow out the candidates.

1) The planned Asper Human Rights Museum fits the bill but a stadium requires more land than is available at the Forks. Scratch that.

2) If the stadium complex isn't going to compete with the Convention Centre anymore, that may be a clue it will be built in proximity to the Convention Centre downtown. Remember the idea floated by Mayor Sam about a waterpark ? Well so did we... it sounds tempting but again, the lack of oodles of land to build the stadium on seems to eliminate downtown as a locale.

Which leads us to the question, where in the city is there a large tract of land, ripe for development, full of synergy and on-going revenue potential?

Well here's one clue: If your proposal to build a Government House for First Nations had been scooped, what would you want to take it's place on YOUR urban reserve? Would a new stadium at the Canada Packers site be a good consolation?

Step right up, Terry Nelson. And while you're at it, bring along local developers Joe Paletta and Joe Bova.

The Joes have already announced plans for a $70 million recreation complex at the Canada Packers site, to include hockey rinks, speed-skating ovals, rock-climbing walls, golf practice fields, a skateboarding park, bike paths and 18 outdoor soccer fields, and indoor pitches.

A big league football field would be a nice neighbour. Or better yet, a big brother.

Both sides of these individual Canada Packers developments are smarting after recent setbacks.

Nelson was primed to create the first Urban reserve in Winnipeg until the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs closed their own deal to build a $60-million government building near Polo Park Shopping Centre. This left Terry Nelson with an alleged pile o' cash set aside for a government house, and a slice of land at Marion and Archibald with no monument structure.

Paletta, meanwhile, had seen his own hotel/waterpark proposal for Headingley, called Northern Riviera, evaporate. The $35 million project was supposed to break ground this summer on land adjacent to the Red River Exhibition grounds and in competion with the Canad Inns/Red River Ex waterpark. However, one of the principle investors died, and with him his European money connections, leaving Paletta scrambling to find a new partner.

In the middle of this marriage of convenience is the city councillor for the area, Franco Magnifico, who had already lobbied for Western Diversification Funding and who told the media that the Bova/Paletta recreation park ( a campus, he calls it) will be financially self-sustaining once it's built.

Can we expect Coun. Magnifico to suit up for the ceremonial kickoff at the new Italo-First Nations Stadium, home of the Big Blue?

Quick. Somebody pinch us.

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