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Alberta Calgary capable of hosting Olympics, but further study needed: committee report

A slice of Calgary’s underdeveloped inner city could morph into a neighbourhood for thousands of people should the city get the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, although a new tax might be necessary to fund the transformation, according to the committee investigating the feasibility of hosting the sporting spectacle.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

A slice of Calgary's underdeveloped inner city could morph into a neighbourhood for thousands of people should the city get the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, although a new tax might be necessary to fund the transformation, according to the committee investigating the feasibility of hosting the sporting spectacle.

The Globe and Mail has obtained an unredacted copy of the group's Olympic vision, which reveals information about real estate the committee believes would need to be developed to pull off the Games. Calgary is capable of hosting the Olympics, but further study is needed before the city decides whether to bid, the committee said in a separate four-page report released on Friday.

A version of the blueprint, known as the Feasibility Study and Conceptual Master Hosting Plan, was posted to the city's website earlier this month with sensitive information redacted. The full version shows a "community revitalization levy" could be a way to help pay for an athletes' village in Calgary's Rivers District, which is adjacent to Stampede Park. The city has been planning to redevelop the area since at least 2007, and the levy is already part of that idea.

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The hosting plan also indicates the Olympics could bring significant opportunities for the area's First Nations. Accommodations for athletes participating in mountain sports or other attendees could be constructed on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation near Canmore, the 364-page report said. The bid exploration committee also identified three potential sites in Canmore, although it does not provide further detail.

The study group said it had investigated whether accommodations that could shelter tourists – Calgary is about 3,100 hotel rooms short of being able to house Olympic visitors – could be built on the Tsuut'ina First Nation, which abuts the city.

The debate over whether to bid for the Olympics is contentious. The Games cost billions of dollars and are notorious for going over budget. The unredacted version of the hosting plan could inflame the debate, with opponents arguing the potential for a tax to help finance the athletes' village demonstrates how Olympics costs add up. On the flip side, the Olympics could jump-start the Rivers District's redevelopment plan, delighting people who want a more vibrant inner city. The committee estimates Calgary could hold the Games for $4.6-billion, a figure critics call too conservative. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics cost about $7.7-billion including construction and operation expenses, according to a 2013 study. Calgary's 1988 Winter Olympics cost less than $1-billion.

The bid exploration committee redacts parts of its reports because it does not want people to manipulate real estate markets or interfere with security plans. Another area that was considered for the proposed athletes' village was near the University of Calgary. The study group's job is to advise city councillors on whether to bid, but it will miss its July 24 deadline, according to Friday's four-page report.

"On the question of feasibility, we arrived at an unconditional 'yes,'" the document said. The committee, however, is not convinced it would be prudent without gathering more information, such as how much money taxpayers will have to kick in. "We recommend continuing to explore the potential of a bid for the 2026" Games, it said. The committee will explain its position to city council on July 24.

In Calgary, the proposed village in the Rivers District would house 3,600 athletes and officials, according to the report.

"The centrepiece of this [Olympics plan] is an exciting idea for a Games hub in the heart of Calgary, at Stampede Park. With existing and proposed facilities in the area along with a new athletes' village in the Rivers District, Stampede Park is well-suited to be the natural gathering place for competition, media coverage and community celebration," a partly redacted portion of the report said. After the athletes move out, the report said, Calgarians could move in.

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The village project is expected to cost $433-million, not counting $238-million to move transit infrastructure. Roughly $55-million from the Olympic budget would be allocated to it.

"We anticipate that the balance of the development cost will come from developer investments and Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) contributions towards the site servicing and development."

The committee estimates the tax could cover $24-million.

Brian Hahn, the study group's general manager, would not address how making public parts of the real estate development plans will affect Calgary's Olympic plans.

"There are lots of concepts that get put in these things," he said in an interview on Friday, noting the group has long championed "clustering" venues to help mitigate security costs. "So we've got a concept."

The potential for new housing on Stoney Nakoda First Nation would fit with the city's desire to include Indigenous people in the Olympic process. In addition to a potential village, the committee "considered opportunities for ancillary accommodation needs and ensuing legacy opportunities that might align with the long-term interests and goals of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation," the report said. "The Stoney Nakoda First Nation was receptive to investigating opportunities and advancing further discussions on potential synergies and future collaboration."

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The report does not definitely say where an athletes' village in the mountains would go. Stoney officials did not return messages seeking comment. Meanwhile, the committee discussed with Tsuut'ina officials how the band's planned development could help meet demand for tourist accommodations.

"[First Nations] are very interested in meaningful participation in the Games," Mr. Hahn said in the interview. "So the consideration of those things at the appropriate time I think is very important for a Games to move forward."

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