Clock ticking for officials to firm up Toronto PanAm Games venues

The Globe and Mail

Toronto’s West Don Lands, seen June 21, 2012, will be home to the PanAm Games’ athletes village. (Michelle Siu For The Globe and Mail)

Three years before Toronto is set to welcome 10,000 athletes to the PanAm Games, organizers have yet to reach deals to use many existing facilities – even after including them on a list of venues announced this spring with much fanfare.

Plans to build five new sporting venues are well on their way, with the province expected to announce Tuesday the close of its first major deal for construction of a sports facility – an aquatics centre and field house at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus that will also be used by the city. Construction of the athlete’s village in the Lower Don Lands also has begun.

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But there are no firm agreements on the use of existing sites that organizers announced will be part of the Games. These include facilities that were on a list released two months ago at a news conference attended by politicians from all three levels of government. Games organizers say they have sent more than 30 “hold the date letters” to operators of sites expected to be used for events and training during the PanAm and Parapan American Games.

“The clock is ticking,” said Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and past dean at the University of Toronto involved in early negotiations for the Games. “I’m frustrated as many are. I give them the benefit of the doubt, but it’s only three years away.”

At Ryerson University, president Sheldon Levy said the school has not reached a deal to host basketball in its new arena at the renovated Maple Leaf Gardens. “This is an issue yet to be resolved,” he said recently.

Another site in limbo is the U of T’s downtown campus, which had its status elevated in May to one of eight “clusters” for the Games as part of a streamlined plan for the sporting event. A short list of three bidders has been selected by the province to install two turf pitches for field hockey at the campus, but no other firm plans have been made, a senior university official involved in negotiations told The Globe and Mail.

“They know they would like to do a number of things, they just haven’t nailed it down yet,” said Anita Comella, assistant dean for the faculty of kinesiology and physical education. “We’re working with them on making the facilities available depending on what they are planning to use them for. Quite honestly, we don’t have a final sport list as to which of our existing facilities will be used.”

Organizers indicated in May th at roller sports and handball would be held at the school’s new Goldring Centre for high performance sport, scheduled to open in January, 2015, six months before the Games begin. Ms. Comella is confident the new facility will be ready in time, and could accommodate competitions in its gym.

Peter Donolo, the veteran communications strategist hired earlier this year to head public relations for the Games, said there is no cause for alarm over the use of existing facilities.

“There are ongoing conversations,” he said. “We just haven’t signed on the dotted line. It’s a process.”

Mr. Donolo indicated Games organizers are on schedule with negotiations for the rented sites and have focused first on plans for the five new venues – the Scarborough aquatics centre, Milton velodrome, Markham’s PanAm Centre, and stadiums at York University and in Hamilton. An agreement also has been reached, he said, for the use of Exhibition Place, which will be home to PanAm Park, the largest cluster of events.

Mr. Donolo said some venues may change from the list released in May, but predicted alterations will be kept to a minimum.

Others say with test events scheduled a year before the PanAm competition, it’s time to firm up plans. Mr. Kidd, now the warden of Hart House at the U of T, said the Games are a good-news story and need to involve people in the community. The longer it takes to work out and announce details on events, he said, the harder it is to make the most of the Games and explore opportunities to get the broader community involved.

Mr. Kidd attributed some of the delays to difficulties working with different levels of government, and said organizers are aware more needs to be done. “They are struggling to spring into action,” he said.

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