Rapid transit and stadium

It’s probably just a coincidence, but it’s interesting to note that David Asper’s announcement favouring a new stadium at the University of Manitoba was closely preceded by the announcement of government funding for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor running from the downtown to the university.

For dramatic effect, Asper made the $130-million stadium announcement during half-time at a U of M Bisons  football game. “When you look over to the field, something really special is going to be there,” Asper said.

Asper is asking the Doer government to kick in $20 million and Ottawa another $15 million to build the stadium at the intersection of Matheson and University Crescent. He hopes to have the facility, which will also boast a fitness centre to train amateur athletes, ready for the 2010 Bison and Blue Bomber football seasons. Asper’s company Creswin Properties is also proposing to redevelop the track and field facility at the U of M. 

In terms of the football stadium sweepstakes, the U of M location is just the third version announced over the last year or so. The first version was a redevelopment of the Canad Inns Stadium at Polo Park, which has served the Blue Bombers since the 1950s. The second version was the extremely expensive 

stadium and commercial redevelopment of South Point Douglas.

Almost every Manitoba sports fan agrees the run-down stadium in Polo Park needs to be replaced, but the more 

skeptical may consider the possibility of 

another proposal being announced in the near feature, depending on what direction the political winds are blowing after the October 14 federal election.

A few weeks ago, the South Point Douglas location seemed to have been favoured by Treasury president and Manitoba MP Vic Toews, Premier Gary Doer and Mayor Sam Katz. But there were hints in recent weeks that a stadium at the U of M was a possibility as a result of the university’s recent purchase of the nearby Southwood Golf and Country Club. The speculation was that sale provided the university with the option of providing the free land Asper has requested for the new 30,000-seat stadium.

Another aspect of the new proposal is that Asper be allowed to purchase the site of the Canad Inns Stadium at fair market value in order to redevelop the location into retail space, which would help fund the $100 million cost of the new stadium and defray Blue Bomber operating costs. As in past stadium versions, the newest proposal calls for Asper to take over 

ownership of the now publicly-owned 

Winnipeg Football Club.

Using his favourite term whenever approached to discuss the feasibility of a new project, Doer replied to the media that the U of M proposal was “doable.” It was “more doable” than redevelopment of the Polo Park football facility, as the two levels of senior government were not being asked to kick in as much money, he added. 

Asper had asked the federal government and the province to provide $40 million each under the  Polo Park proposal. The South Point Douglas proposal was basically in the same league as the Polo Park proposal — not as “doable” as the location at the U of M.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Lyle Bauer must be wondering whether, with all the location changes, the Blue Bombers will ever have a new stadium to call home.

In the case of the BRT, Doer and Katz made a joint early September announcement that the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor will receive a combined public investment  of $138 million. The first phase would see the corridor developed from Jubilee Avenue to The Forks, followed by a second phase from Jubilee to Bison Drive.

As with a new stadium, rapid transit has been discussed for years with little action. The announcement is a welcome relief to the corridor’s advocates, including the WinnipegREALTORS® Association. 

“I’ve also said rapid transit is part of our city’s future,” said Katz. “By laying the groundwork ... we can move ahead on providing Winnipeggers with quick, reliable and green transportation (there will be a bicycle path) alternatives at a time when gas prices are at an unprecedented high.”

The city is contributing $30.7 million to the corridor, which includes $17.5 million from the 2008 Federal Transit Fund, while the province is matching the federal contribution and will fund 50 per cent of net operating costs for the rapid transit system. The intention is to further fund the system by utilizing financing through incremental tax growth from residential and infill housing  along the corridor.

Deborah Goodfellow, A Winnipeg REALTOR® who served on the rapid transit task force, said people will get on a BRT “and get to the University of Manitoba in no  time.”

“It’s good for the city and it’s good for development, and the benefits far outweigh the cost,” added the president-elect of 

the WinnipegREALTORS® Association. “There are so many benefits, such as denser housing. With rapid transit, you’re suddenly able to increase the city’s tax base.”

One developer, who owns land in the Lord Roberts neighbourhood adjacent to the proposed corridor, said the announcement will allow his plans for residential homes to be expanded, including more emphasis on denser housing types, such as townhouses.

“At the same time, you’re getting more cars off the roads — there will be less pollution, less stress on infrastructure and less reliance on expensive fuel,” said Goodfellow.

Doer expects the corridor to help it meet the province’s Kyoto targets as well as improve “transit ridership and efficiency.”

It will also be welcomed by students who spend a significant amount of their time getting to and from the university. It is projected that the rapid transit system will cut some 25 minutes of ride time.

Although the announcements for a new stadium and a rapid transit system were the result of different factors coming into play, it could be argued that in combination the two proposals are significantly more attractive when linked together.