The woman tasked with the formidable jobs of trying to fill Calgary’s empty office towers and luring Amazon to the foothills during Alberta’s economic downturn has been handed a new, equally daunting role: leading the city’s still-wobbly bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.
On Tuesday, Mary Moran was named the first chief executive officer of Calgary 2026, the weeks-old bid group leading the charge for the city and nearby town of Canmore to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in eight years. Currently the head of Calgary Economic Development, she will take a leave of absence and move into the new position on Aug. 13.
“This is the largest economic development file in the city right now – and so it is a natural extension of the work that I’m doing,” Ms. Moran said in an interview.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide which city will play host to the 2026 Games in just 13 months, and there is a long list of things Calgary must do before being considered – such as deciding whether it really wants another Olympics.
Ms. Moran takes the helm just as Calgary City Council has ratcheted up the noise about a lack of support from Ottawa and the provincial government for the bid. Earlier this week, council set Sept. 10 as the day it will decide whether there’s enough outside help to proceed. Even before Ms. Moran’s name was announced on Tuesday, City Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart tweeted: “I absolutely do not want an Olympic CEO appointed until the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada pay attention to this file and make immediate commitments one way or the other. Otherwise we must withdraw.”
There are other key points to be sorted out as the city ponders whether it wants to capitalize on its Olympic experience and infrastructure from the 1988 Winter Olympics. The wording, exact date and details of a non-binding city plebiscite on the Games, required for the fulfillment of some provincial funding, are yet to be determined. There are still questions about holding events well outside of Calgary – think Whistler, B.C., and Edmonton. And many Calgarians are still convinced the cost will outweigh any rewards.
Ms. Moran is asking Calgarians – especially those opposed to the Games – to be patient.
“In an ideal world, we would have had Calgary 2026 up and running a few months ago. But we are where we are. And the runway is shorter than expected, but I think we’re ahead of a lot of other cities.”
The mandate for Calgary 2026 is to “clarify the vision and details” of a potential Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and develop a more accurate cost estimate. If the decision is made to move forward with the bid and the IOC picks Calgary as a 2026 candidate city, Ms. Moran’s organization will also produce a bid book, to be submitted to the IOC in January, outlining how the city plans to stage the Games.
Last fall, Ms. Moran was at the forefront of Calgary’s bid to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to the city with a brash and funny – but ultimately unsuccessful – guerrilla-style billboard, newspaper and sidewalk-chalk ad campaign. For the past three years, she has led the city’s main economic development agency through a period of high unemployment and even higher downtown office vacancy. She has been the steady spokeswoman in the push to get new industries to set up shop in Alberta’s largest city to counter shrinking investment in the oil and gas sector.
On Tuesday, she said that as with any economic development file, she will examine the pros and cons of bringing the Games to Calgary.
A bid exploration committee estimated last year that the Games would cost at least $4.6-billion and require $2.4-billion in public funding. City council has since been informed the costs could be even higher. But Ms. Moran said a more rigorous economic assessment is needed.
There is also still the outstanding question of sharing the Games with Edmonton and Whistler. Last year, she said in an interview that spreading Olympic events over a number of cities would weaken the economics of it. On Tuesday, she said all options have to be considered because the city “is not in a position to shut any doors right now.”