As the New Year begins so does a new era for two storied football clubs in Winnipeg – the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the University of Manitoba Bisons. This year, both teams will move into their new home at Investors Group Field at the U of M Campus.
The man hired to build the new stadium, Mike Clynes, came to Winnipeg two years ago from the United States to take on this project. Now that it’s nearly complete, Clynes is proud to showcase this major achievement. He’s also excited that he’s found a ‘gem’ called Winnipeg.
It’s one thing for a big time US project management expert to come to Winnipeg for a one time gig, it’s another for him to decide he wants to make the city his new home.
Community News Commons (CNC) caught up with Mike Clynes for an extended interview about building the stadium and finding a new home in the Heart of the Continent.
Mike Clynes, the man who built Investors Group Field, has spent most of his life with the goal of becoming one of the best at what he does.
Clynes was born and raised in St.Louis, Missouri, where his father was a general contractor. He grew up working for his dad’s company, going through all the apprentice programs, building strip malls, churches and custom homes.
“My father did everything,” says Clynes. “Mechanical, electrical, carpentry, plumbing, excavation, roofing, the whole gamut, interior finishes, so I learned a lot from him.”
Clynes went on to study engineering management, and after graduating, he traveled to Houston where still in his early twenties, he was hired as an assistant project engineer on the tallest building in the Sun Belt – his first plaza, 56 floors worth 89 million dollars.
“On that building,” he recalls, “I took it upon myself to memorize the drawings, specifications, and consequently whenever there was questions asked, I was in the room, they would ask me because I knew the answers, I had it in my head, I didn’t have to look it up in the books.”
Clynes’ initiative caught the eye of those he worked for and once the shell of the building was finished he was promoted to project manager to finish off the interior and tenant buildout spaces. He learned early on in his career that knowing as much as possible about a project creates opportunity.
“One of my ROTC colonels once said, ‘When you’re lost in the woods, the leader is the guy who knows the way out, doesn’t matter rank, age, anything.’ On that project, I knew the way, and I became the leader.”
Clynes was soon in charge of design and construction for one of the largest developers in Houston, where he worked at for a number of years building high rise commercial office buildings, strip malls and other projects.
He went back to school in the late 1980s to learn about computer applications in project management. A move back to St.Louis put him in charge of the corporate engineering department at Anheuser-Busch where he helped the makers of Budweiser beer with a capital expansion program that automated and computerized their operations.
From there Clynes went onto work for May Department Stores (which became Macy’s) where he built about a hundred department stores and remodelled about 500 stores across the US.
His continued success in project management and construction brought him to be project director and construction manager for a Chicago developer, building several hotels and luxury condominiums.
Then in 2006, Clynes was hired by the largest and oldest gaming contractor in Las Vegas to help build a 4.8-billion-dollar mega resort on the Vegas strip. It was a massive development on a 100-acre site that included 15-thousand five star hotel rooms, a casino, a million square foot luxury shopping mall, a million square foot convention centre and a 715-thousand square foot expo centre with six parkades and its own central utilities plant.
It was after completing this major project in Las Vegas when a recruiter phoned Clynes to see if he wanted to come to Winnipeg to design and build a football stadium. Clynes had never worked in Canada and he was curious. So, in June 2010 he made the journey north to be interviewed for the job of leading the effort to build Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. That’s where we pick up the CNC interview with Mike Clynes.
CNC: What was your first impression of Winnipeg?
Mike Clynes (MC): I came up in June close to the longest day of the year here, and I found it fascinating. I found it was warm, there wasn’t any snow on the ground. I really liked the town, it reminded me of Austin, Texas, a college town. Everything about Winnipeg I saw I just liked. And then I went to Assiniboine Park at 10:30 at night and it’s still daylight. And there are people out in the park and I said, ‘Wow, I can really get to like this.’
CNC: You brought a lot of experience to your job interview, but had you built a stadium before?
MC: The people I interviewed with, Stuart Olson Dominion Construction, great people, I interviewed with them, told them my background, my capabilities. The casino resort I had just came from had a Celine Dion type theatre, actually it has several theatres, one large theatre that was almost the size of the stadium project. So, in addition to all the other things that we built there, it had a big similar stadium type project.
CNC: Obviously you got the job to build Investors Group Field. What did the project look like at the very beginning?
MC: I ended up starting work July 12, 2010. I came up here and started on the stadium project. At that time, there was one hand drawn drawing done, that’s all there was. That drawing was just the foundation plan. I was tasked with assisting design coordination, and tendering it as was required to provide a price – it was tendered in nine weeks. I had never tendered a project so fast and with a partial design; design was completed the last week of the nine-week tender period. It’s as fast track as it gets.
The team decided to go with integrated project delivery team approach, that’s where the architects and engineers as well as myself and my sub-trades come together, and work as a collaborative team for the betterment of the stakeholders, the end users.
The IPD team approach was actually developed in 2005 back in Tampa-St.Pete by myself and several friends in the development and project management business; it’s the way I’ve always done construction. I’ve always wore the owners hat, hired the consultants and engineers and architects, and I controlled the general contractor because it was me, and all of the sub-trades. The integrated project delivery approach works all those entities together for the benefit of the project.
A group of us got together in Tampa in 2005 and strategized; we came up with the term ‘Integrated Project Delivery’. And it’s kind of caught on and now it’s somewhat global and it’s the way most buyers of construction set up their project approach. I also published a white paper on the subject. IPD team is when everybody comes together, the whole group, they take off their company logos, set aside their business objectives and come together as a cohesive team for the benefit of the entire project, the end users, the stakeholders, and to fast track the project.
Working as a team now you can fast track the project, you can reduce the cost and enhance the quality because you’re all on the same team, looking out for the same agenda, the same objectives, and that’s why we were able to do things in record breaking time, give back a lot of money, a lot of value engineering ideas. Value engineering just means you come up with strategies to produce something more efficient and less costly, but still with the same overall end result. And by giving back with value engineering, we’re able to produce things that enhance the fan experience which was the direction of the original developer.
CNC: How will the fan experience at the new stadium be enhanced?
MC: We have the two giant video screens, 120 feet by 30 feet, high definition on each end; we have 250 high definition TV’s, two on every column; we have a state of the art audio system with eleven speaker clusters on each side hanging from the roof and then one at every column on every level of the entire facility.
We went with the largest seats, the best seats, 22 inch seats, Hussey Seating, the best in the industry. We gave everybody 17 inches of legroom so that they wouldn’t be bothered when someone walked in front of them, they won’t have to stand up when someone walks through.
We over designed the restroom capacity by 50 percent so that your wait in line for the restroom is minimal. We gave it a flow so there’s no traffic; you go in one door, out the other.
The concession capacity was over designed by fifty percent in order to increase the variety of food and drink that you can buy at the concessions. It has a large dining area on the east side.
It’s one of the first stadiums in Canada to have both a university team housed with a professional league team; and complete locker rooms for both away team university and away team professionals as well as locker rooms for stars or performers and their crews. So, it’s well thought out.
The ramp going down into the basement into field level is capable of handling buses or cranes, so that the away teams can pull their buses directly down in the basement, load and unload, from an enclosed area.
The arch trusses, they are the highest and longest spanning in Canada and support five acres of roof. They are 590 metres long and a little over 200 feet high. Building it’s was a monumental feat that I’m proud to say I had a part in it.
There is 10 large first down markers located in a section of landscape that has the same field turf as on the playing field to commemorate the team’s Grey Cup wins. The yard lines on the landscape turf match those on the playing field.
But, more proud, is the fact that I found Winnipeg. I really have found a gem of a city. It’s not so much the geographic diversity because it’s mostly flat, but it’s the diversity in the culture and the people. They’re just good hearted, hard working individuals. Like I said, a lot of diversity here, a lot of culture, there’s a lot of things to do, it’s a big town but a small town. I can almost count on that anywhere I go where there’s a big group of people, there’s going to be somebody I know. It really says a lot to me.
CNC: We’ll ask you in a second about your new found admiration for Winnipeg and your desire to make it your new home, but first how about a bit more detail about completing this project. What were some of the records that were broken when it came to the designing and building of this new stadium?
MC: It’s the least cost on a per seat basis of any stadium that’s ever been built in North America which is really a feather in the cap because we spared nothing when it came to enhancing the fan experience. So, you not only get a world class stadium, you get one at the least cost, and it’s also the fastest a stadium of that size has ever been built.
And it also won an award. I had this stadium done as a BIM 3-D model, and it won an award for the best looking largest steel structure that had been 3-D modelled that year. You can turn the model upside down, you can look through it, you can do co-ordination, I gave it to my superintendents before we had really started and we found a lot of errors and mistakes. So, instead of fixing them with jackhammers and torches, we fixed them with erasers.
CNC: What was the most challenging aspect of the project from your standpoint?
MC: I guess there were a couple of things that were a little bit different on this project than on most. One, the schedule was very tight. But two, the winters here, so diverse. The winters get down to minus 40 and your heavy equipment can’t operate – it breaks steel and freezes oil. So that took a little bit to get used to. And then this last winter we had a mild winter but we were hit with severe winds, winds came in from the south and brought in the warm, mild weather, and a couple days later they’re pushed right back out with northern cold winds.
And we were lifting sections of steel 200 feet in the air, some of which weighed 250 tons, and took two 300 ton cranes at 98 percent of their capacity to lift into place. Each lift was engineered and no lift could take place if there were any winds over 32 kilometres an hour, and that isn’t on the ground, that’s 200 feet in the air. So, you can imagine the problems that that caused. Some days we would lift a piece of steel in the air, the winds would pick up and it would be twelve hours later before we could release it.
CNC: What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project from your standpoint?
MC: My entire stadium team worked seven days a week, long hard hours and never complained. They are all proud to be part of this great effort.
Yes the people and the culture is what I found enjoyable up here. Hard working, honest, dedicated people, proud people, proud of what they do, resourceful, able to figure out problems, very knowledgeable in what they do – some of the most proficient construction people that I have ever had the pleasure to work with in construction and design.
CNC: How about the least enjoyable aspect of the project?
MC: Reading about my project in the press and knowing what’s written about it is not correct.
CNC: Such as …?
MC: There was actually a lot of aspects but some of the delays, some of the delays as a result of weather, I don’t think the proper things were said there, and nobody ever printed or said it’s the fastest stadium of this size that’s ever been built. We were released December 17, 2010 going into the holidays; I ordered the steel for our foundation piles and had it delivered January 5, 2011; we drove our first foundation pile January 6, 2011; and here we are 24 months later with a world class monument of a stadium that fast. I know that it set records and everybody else just thinks it’s late.
CNC: Do you think it makes any difference now?
MC: It really makes no difference. I can tell you that when people walk into that stadium for the first time this year, and they see the true jewel they got, they’re not going to remember anything about schedule, timing, any of the details, it’s just all going to go away, everybody is just going to go, ‘Wow’.
CNC: So you think we are all going to be duly impressed when we walk in there?
MC: I’ll tell you what, we’ve had suppliers that have supplied to all the NFL stadiums in the States, and they walked in and said, “Unbelievable.”
CNC: Where are you at now in terms of moving to Winnipeg permanently?
MC: I’ve been living here for over two years now. I have a condo down on Wellington Crescent, very nice place it’s on the 16th floor, it faces the stadium, its home.
CNC: Now that you’ve been nominated under the Provincial Nomination Program it may not be too long before you become a Canadian citizen.
MC: Yes, there is a length of time that you have to be here. Right now I’m on a work permit. The Provincial Nomination allows me to stay until I get a permanent visa approval that allows me to stay and work. And then, I’m here I think its three maybe four years, I can then take the citizenship test and get my Canadian citizenship.
CNC: What type of work are you interested in doing if and when you do end up here permanently?
MC: Project construction management and development is what I’ve always done so I’ll continue to do that. If there was anybody looking to do a development, my background is in development, so I can do the entire turn key from finding a site, designing and developing a pro forma and determining a return on investment, determining what kind of facility, how many square feet of office space or how many hotel rooms and then designing it and building it. Full turn key for any type of project. I’ve done industrial work for Anheuser-Busch, built high rise offices, luxury hotels, and department stores. The larger more complicated the project the more interesting I find it. I can handle just about any type project.
CNC: Do you have anything lined up?
MC: Well, finishing up the stadium is my priority. And, there are some opportunities out there.
CNC: What does it take to finish up the stadium at this point in time?
MC: Well, the Bombers are moving in right now and the Bisons want to move in the summer. Then, we’ve been given some additional work to install the concessions for the concessionaire which was never in our scope. That work will take place from January through till the end of April. I probably won’t be involved in that, it will be our special projects group. I will be cleaning up the outside, putting in the landscaping and things like that when the weather changes and it gets nicer.
CNC: Speaking of weather, a lot of people run from Winnipeg because of the weather. Last year was a mild winter as you know, but sometimes it can be minus 40 or colder for an extended period of time. Is that something that has you rethinking whether Winnipeg is the place to move to?
MC: No, as a matter of fact, just the opposite. I find it exhilarating. I’ve experienced it in upstate New York before, but it’s sort of the rare thing. It’s not rare here. Here it’s something that is normal. And so, the first winter I was here it snowed the first week in November, I think there was several feet of snow and it stayed all winter and it got below forty and I just looked forward to everyday, I just thought, ‘Man, this is so neat.’
CNC: Did the weather keep you indoors?
MC: Not at all. It didn’t keep me from going out. I went down to the Assiniboine, skated on the river and just did everything there was to do.
CNC: Did you go to any Bomber games at the old stadium?
MC: Every one for the last two years.
CNC: What did you think of the old stadium?
MC: It’s an antique. It’s quite historic. You don’t see many like that anymore.
CNC: What do you think of CFL football? You probably grew up watching American football and a lot of Americans don’t really tune into Canadian football that much, but what’s your impression of the game up here?
MC: I love it. It’s faster, quicker. There’s more diversity in the plays that they do. Kicking field goals, taking those points, I like the way they play it.
CNC: So I would guess you’ve made a few friends since moving to Winnipeg.
MC: I’ll tell you what, I’ve got more friends and know more people here than I do in the States. That’s 30 years of career development down there. It’s a friendly area here. People of Winnipeg need to cherish the gem that they have here. And from experience I know that people who live some place all of their life tend to approach it with a commonality that it’s not as good as other places, but that’s just the opposite. I’ve been everywhere and I can tell you that you’ve got a world class city here. One of the best I’ve ever been in.
For more information about Winnipeg’s new stadium, Investors Group Field, check out this document Interesting Facts about the Stadium
Mike Clynes from Stuart Olson Dominion gives a video update on construction progress at Investors Group Field. Posted: September 14, 2012 http://www.bluebombers.com/video/index/id/78593
The project manager overseeing construction of Investors Group Field gives an exclusive video update on the progress at the future home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Posted: July 04, 2012: http://www.bluebombers.com/video/index/id/75537
More photos and video during construction of Investors Group Field, courtesy of Winnipeg Free Press: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Take-a-tour-of-Investors-Group-Field-135657818.html
Some amazing footage of ironworkers in action building the new stadium in Winnipeg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzVJI3rsiR8
Photographer Leif Norman captured many of these photographs during construction of the new stadium, Investors Group Field: http://www.leifnorman.net/winnipeg-stadium-under-construction-oct-21-2011/