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Draft plan for 2026 Winter Olympics in Calgary estimates costs amounting to $5.23-billion

Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran delivers technical elements of its plan to host the Olympics to city council in Calgary on Sept. 11, 2018.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The committee exploring a Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics is relying on upgraded existing facilities, some help from Whistler, B.C., and a few new venues to bring the cost of holding the Games to less than what Vancouver spent for the 2010 Games.

The Draft Hosting Plan Concept presented to city council Tuesday, estimates the cost at $5.23-billion in today’s dollars, including about $610-million in security costs. When everything was tallied in Vancouver and Whistler for the 2010 Games, the total came to $7.7-billion.

“We’re anticipating we will use eight existing venues and only build two new venues, which is a different approach than what most cities take, including some of the recent Games," said Mary Moran, chief executive officer for the 2026 bid corporation.

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There are significant details still to be worked out.

Organizers are counting on $2.23-billion in sponsorship revenue, ticket sales and the International Olympic Committee’s contribution of $1.2-billion in cash and services.

That makes the taxpayers’ portion, as paid out by three levels of government, at about $3-billion. How that sum is divided among the city, province and federal government is still being negotiated.

By comparison, last winter’s Pyeongchang Games in South Korea cost US$12.9-billion and the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia were estimated to cost US$50-billion.

The draft document also doesn’t detail where the 2026 curling events would be held.

It’s also not clear whether an NHL-sized arena will be incorporated into the plan. Instead, the draft indicates an upgraded Scotiabank Saddledome will be the main hockey venue.

The city and the Calgary Flames had been in a bitter battle over the prospect of a new arena for the NHL team and the cost breakdown of financing it. The Flames grew so frustrated during negotiations that they walked away. One of their wishes is an ancillary rink for practising, which would also serve as a community rink. The Saddledome is now the oldest arena in the NHL.

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In terms of facilities, Calgary will need to build a multiport fieldhouse for speed skating and figure skating plus the mid-sized community rink that would be the secondary hockey arena.

The remaining Olympic venues will be upgraded or, in the case of ski jumping, located outside the province.

Whistler will handle ski jumping and Nordic combined as it did at the 2010 Winter Olympics. The cost of building a new jump in Calgary was prohibitive compared to staging the events in B.C.

Edmonton has been discussed as a possible host to the men’s and women’s curling events and also as a possible host for some select men’s and women’s hockey games at the lavish Rogers Place. But the draft plan presented Tuesday does not include those possibilities.

The plan shows Nakiska, located west of Calgary, would be home to alpine skiing, ski cross and snowboard cross. Originally, it was thought Lake Louise would be allowed to hold alpine events as it does every World Cup season. But National Park regulations were not relaxed to allow for the extra traffic to and from the ski area.

Moran told councillors that although the draft document does not answer all their questions, the bid committee’s work is well ahead of what is usual in a bidding process.

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“Our responsibility is to develop and promote a responsible bid," Moran said. "We’re about 4 1/2 years in advance of when most bidcos have this level of budgeting detail.

“We’re very confident with the number we’ve put forward to the community."

Moran estimated Alberta’s gross domestic product would stand to gain $2-billion through the Olympics with another $200-million in tax revenue.

She added that Calgary 2026 wants governments to ensure they contribute both to the Games and also the Paralympic Games, which will be held largely in Canmore. In 1988, Calgary did not hold a Paralympic Games.

Calgary has not yet committed to bidding for the 2026 Winter Games. City council has reserved the right to pull the plug on the process at any time.

“The question council has to ask itself today, is there enough information here to go to the people and let the people decide in a plebiscite?” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

"Based on what I’ve heard today, I certainly think that with the exception of the piece on the actual share from the provincial government, we’re ready to go to a plebiscite.

“The province has promised that they will come forward with those provincial numbers in plenty of time for the vote.”

Calgary is holding a plebiscite on Nov. 13, allowing its citizens to vote on whether the city should forge ahead with a bid. With a yes vote, Calgary must have its bid book ready for the IOC in January, 2019. The final vote on which city will stage the 2026 Winter Olympics will be made in September, 2019, in Milan, Italy.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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