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Blue Bombers say new stadium will not open this season

The Canadian Press

6/15/2012 4:07:20 PM

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers say their new stadium will not open this season after all.

The CFL club was already planning to play the first few months at 60-year-old Canad Inns Stadium because of delays caused by wind and other weather at the construction site of Investors Group Field.

But they had been saying for more than a month they would get into the team's new 33,500-seat home in September, and now the Bombers admit that won't happen.

"The reality is that unpredictable weather at a critical stage of construction has made it difficult to pin down the ultimate completion date," president Garth Buchko said in a statement Friday.

"Endeavouring to accelerate work to overcome weather disruptions, beyond what is reasonable and safe, will only create further delays along the way, potentially compromising worker safety and the ultimate fan experience."

The Bombers now say Investors Group Field will open for the beginning of the 2013 CFL season.

"To open Investors Group Field prior to a state of total completion would not be fair to our fans as their first experience must be a positive one."

Bombers supporters on Twitter and fan forums expressed little surprise at the announcement.

"Thank god," one fan who goes by the name Do or Die wrote on the Bomber fan forum. "Would've been better to admit it earlier, but at least this particular dance of the seven veils is finally over."

Buchko has been taking a lot of flak from fans. He took over as president this year after working for many years with radio station CJOB, which carries Bombers games.

They didn't let up Friday and said he should not have made promises he couldn't keep.

Buchko said later in the day that he was only providing the latest information that he kept receiving from their builders, Stuart Olson Dominion, but he refused to lay any blame at their feet.

One of the big problems has been trying to erect the partial canopies that cover 3.2 hectares of the seating areas. Huge steel beams weighing upwards of 200 tonnes have to be lifted by massive cranes and they can't operate in high winds.

Winnipeg has a well-earned reputation as a windy city, but Buchko pointed in particular to the high winds and warm temperatures that continued throughout the winter.

"No one could predict the winter wind that we had, the abnormal above-normal temperatures that we had. I'm not laying blame on Stuart Olson Dominion. They have done yeoman's work, they have brought in extra people, extra men to do the job."

But he said they can't fight the weather and the Bombers decided to make their announcement now because the latest timeline was "unpredictable."

"At this point I am not comfortable with anything but a certain date."

He says Stuart Olson Dominion is confident their portion of the work will be completed by Sept. 1 but not the canopy work they subcontracted out.

Because of what seemed a late start on construction, questions were immediately raised about a promise to be ready for the opening of the 2012 season. The team decided to play their first four regular-season games on the road and open at home July 26.

They also made the decision to play one pre-season game at Canad Inns, which is set for next Wednesday.

But the July 26 date was always a little soft and they promised an update in May. Early last month they said there would be further delays, to Sept. 21 at the latest with a possible date of Sept. 9.

At the time, Buchko said Sept. 21 was "very likely, if not 100 per cent positive."

It was those false starts that really rankled.

"I'm fine with playing in Canad Inns another year, but amazed at the stupidity of Buchko's decision (to announce the earlier dates)," was the opinion of one fan who goes by the nickname robynjt.

The Bombers have been promising a state-of-the-art experience at the new $190-million stadium, located on the campus of the University of Manitoba. They'll share it with the university's football team, the Bisons.

Buchko apologized to fans for the delay, however, the overwhelming response on Twitter and the fan forum seemed to be relief, tinged with just a little cynicism.

"I'm surprised they announced it so soon," said a fan who goes by the nickname SaskBlue. "They still had another whole week to sell season's tickets under the guise of playing games in the new stadium this year."

The province is paying the lion's share of the $190 million up front but the Bombers are supposed to repay about $85 million over time. The city and federal government are also making contributions.

The Bombers have already announced record sponsorships and record season-ticket sales as people jockey for spots in the new stadium.

Ticket holders will get a credit towards next season's tickets of the difference between the old and new price and will get cash back if they request it, Buchko said.

And even though its sponsorship deal has expired, Canad Inns gets one more year of seeing its name above the Bombers' home field.