Manitoba finance minister proposes new arrangement for capital funding of IG Field

The Manitoba government has proposed a new agreement to pay for capital projects and stadium operations at IG Field that will supposedly be more “transparent and sustainable” for taxpayers and the Winnipeg Football Club, a news release says.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding believes the proposal will allow all parties to address the “substantial problems” of the original deal, while making sure IG Field remains a “viable and sustainable community asset” in the future, he said in the release.

In 2011, the former NDP government approved two loans to Triple B Stadium Inc., a consortium made up of the provincial government, City of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba and Winnipeg Football Club that owns IG Field. The loans, totalling $160 million, were for the stadium’s construction on the U of M’s Fort Garry campus, the release says.

The loans were supposed to be repaid in two ways at the same time. First, $75 million was repayable over 25 years based off of redevelopment from the former stadium site in Polo Park. Second, $85 million was to be repaid from 2014 to 2058 from revenue generated by the Winnipeg Football Club.

The stadium has required millions of dollars in repairs since it was built. A lawsuit filed against the contractors in 2015 alleges the stadium suffered from poor or no drainage in some parts, had little or no isolation in some areas and leaked.

The Manitoba government lent Triple B another $35 million to cover the repairs and pay for the court case that is still ongoing.

Under the original agreement with Triple B, a capital fund was supposed to be created for the stadium. It was to be funded with revenue from the Winnipeg Football Club.

But president and CEO Wade Miller told CBC News on Friday that the capital fund had a balance of zero dollars because the team was putting money aside to fix the stadium’s blemishes.

A 2018 review was commissioned to identify and establish capital funding for annual capital costs.

The provincial comptroller, at that same time, reviewed financial data and concluded the loans were not on track to be repaid and that “substantial oversights” in the original deal did not account for annual ongoing capital maintenance costs of the stadium, the news release says.

The Winnipeg Football Club and Triple B complied with their obligations and have made their payments as required, but there remains no balance in the current capital fund, the news release says.

The proposal announced Friday would see the Manitoba government create a capital account of $10 million to fund repairs at IG Field — which was previously called Investors Group Field and is home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the University of Manitoba football team and Valour FC.

The Bombers would be responsible for managing the account and keeping the stadium in shape, the release says.

The City of Winnipeg would be asked to amend the “legal obligations” of Triple B to allow entertainment funding taxes and facility fees from ticket sales to be spent on things other than construction loan repayment, the release says.

The city would also be asked to let the football club retain money from those taxes and fees in order spend it on, among other things, the proposed capital fund and stadium operations, the release says.

The Manitoba government, meanwhile, would take over the ongoing court case related to “construction deficiencies” and would pocket any money gained from the litigation, the release says.

The proposal announced Friday has been in the works for a couple of years, as the Triple B stakeholders have tried to figure out a way to create a capital fund that will protect the community assets of the stadium, said Miller.

“This is now the mechanism to create that capital fund and get it started,” he said.

“Now, we look forward to working with the city to amend the entertainment funding tax grant agreement and then get this across the goal.”

The City of Winnipeg’s public service will be preparing a report about the proposed modifications to the deal that will be presented to city council for consideration, a spokesperson said. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The CFL season was cancelled due to COVID-19 last year, and the 2021 season has been pushed back until August for now. But Miller says the pandemic did not play a part in the proposal announced Friday.

The capital fund was required before the pandemic started, so COVID-19 slowed down the process of making it a reality, he said. 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is pleased to see Minister Fielding change his position on the deal from when he voted in favour of it in 2010 as the city’s finance chair, he said in a statement sent to CBC News through a spokesperson.

Bowman has advocated for changes to the deal in the past, so he sees this a step forward for taxpayers and the Bombers, he said.

The city public service will be preparing a report about the proposed modifications and will present to city council, a city spokesperson said.