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Scott Taylor

By SCOTT TAYLOR

If you, as a Manitoba taxpayer, wanted to say, hold a birthday party at Investors Group Field, I think  you should have that right. In fact, I’m no longer even certain that you should be charged for using the venue.
I mean, you own it now. We all own it now.

 

 

 

IG Field

Back in late September, the provincial Conservative government decided to “write off” the Winnipeg Football Club’s $82 million debt on that big football park at the University of Manitoba campus.
Of course, it was part of a longer, more political news conference, in which the government spent most of the afternoon ripping the previous NDP government. During a long political whine loudly suggesting the NDP didn’t leave Premier Brian Pallister and his Conservative pals with enough real taxpayers’ money to spend, Pallister railed about what he called “stealth accounting,” and sure, I suspect that in many ways, he was probably right.
However, a big part of the whine was to suggest that the Bombers shouldn’t have to live up to their end of the stadium bargain, saying that paying for their share of what is now a $230 million building “was designed to fail the Bombers.” In other words, paying its $4.4 million share of what is called the “Phase 2 loan,” was no longer necessary.


Finance Minister Scott Fielding offered up something about the Bombers being required to “make some stadium payments” and about “protecting taxpayers as much as we can,” but we all kind of rolled our eyes and came to the abrupt realization that the Bombers were off the hook and that $82 million of our money was little more than vapour, a notation on a spread sheet.
Still, there is something the Bombers and the group that runs the stadium – a Troika affectionately known as Triple B – could do to make amends.
It could allow the people who actually own the stadium to use the stadium at a rental price that isn’t stupid. Here’s an example.
After six years, Rick Henkewich is stepping down as Commissioner of the Winnipeg High School Football League. Every year since it opened, Henkewich made sure he was able to have the WHSFL play its championship games at the big, still-new stadium. However, it was always an expensive proposition for his all-volunteer group.


“We are now paying $1,700 a game to use the stadium and the Bombers take our gate and get all concessions, if they open concessions,” said Henkewich. “Last year, we paid $8,000 for four championship games and I gave them our gate.
“I get that. They had a debt to pay on the stadium. At least, they did in the original agreement with the government (to build the stadium) and I knew they had to recoup as much revenue as possible to pay their share of the debt.
“But now, it’s quite obvious to everybody that they don’t have to pay their share of the debt and they are now on much stronger footing. I think the time has now arrived when they should simply open the stadium up to groups like the WHSFL. The government is now saving them about $5 million a year. If they put one-tenth of that, say $500,000 into a pot for groups to use the stadium, then the stadium would be put to good use by the people who are now picking up that $5 million a year payment.”
Now, let’s be clear. Henkewich has no argument with Blue Bombers’ President Wade Miller and his board. Fact is, Miller gives the WHSFL use of the building for the annual Senior Bowl, a game that is near and dear to Miller’s heart. The Bombers also give a large portion of the 50/50 profits to Football Manitoba.

 

 

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But as Henkewich says, “We don’t benefit from playing in that stadium,” because the WHSFL not only pays rent, but also gives up its gate.
“Remember, that was not the original deal,” Henkewich said. “In order to jump all the political hurdles to get the stadium built, amateur football and other amateur groups were supposed to receive unfettered use of the building. When the city and province tore down the Velodrome and then later, Canad Inns Stadium, we were told to our faces that we’d always be part of the new stadium, but we never have been. Not for one day.
“It was never supposed to be a financial hardship for us to play in there. Our real problem isn’t the Bombers, though, it’s Triple B – the province, the city and the University of Manitoba. They’re the owners of the building and they set the fees. Triple B is nothing more than a modern version of Winnipeg Enterprises Corporation and we all remember what a problem that organization was.”


Indeed. I reported regularly on WEC and, at its best, Enterprises was a Keystone Kops-like operation that ultimately cost Winnipeg its original NHL franchise in 1996. At its worst, it was a low-end petty criminal undertaking that demanded taxpayer-funded event tickets, booze and travel and actually kept an enemies list. It was a group that brought onto its board some very good people, but it didn’t take long for those very good people to become as corrupt and unsavory as the rest of the organization.
Let’s hope Triple B isn’t the 2018 version of WEC. Instead, let’s hope that Triple B can now live up to its original agreements. There should be weekend minor football jamborees in that stadium, there should be a high school football triple-header every week, there should be soccer and ultimate and sure, birthday parties – with one simple, affordable registration fee.
The Bombers don’t have to meet their original financial agreements anymore and that’s fine. We all love the Bombers. However, amateur sport – and Manitoba taxpayers – deserve to use the stadium whenever they want without financial hand grenades being thrown in front of them.

After all, WE own it all now.

 

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