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A group of tourists have their photo taken in front of a mural in Calgary in September. (Chris Bolin Photography Inc For The Globe and Mail)
A group of tourists have their photo taken in front of a mural in Calgary in September. (Chris Bolin Photography Inc For The Globe and Mail)

Delayed report leaves Calgary with less time to mull Olympic bid Add to ...

The public will have much less time than originally expected to provide input on whether Calgary should bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games once the first major feasibility report is released only five months before Calgary must signal its intention with the International Olympic Committee.

Originally, the bid exploration committee was supposed to complete a draft of its “master hosting plan” and present it to city council by Dec. 31, 2016. This plan was, in part, meant to evaluate existing and potential sports venues and identify options for the media and athlete villages. The original timeline called the master hosting plan “the most critical and complex task” facing the committee.

But now the draft report will not be available until April, according to Sean Beardow, a spokesman for the bid exploration committee. The group, however, is still on track to deliver its final report and recommendation to city council by June 30, he said. Calgary, the federal government and the Canadian Olympic Committee must confirm an intention to bid with the IOC by Aug. 31.

The delay means people will have less time to see the committee’s work and little opportunity to have their voices heard, said Rob VanWynsberghe, a sustainability expert at the University of British Columbia who has studied the Olympics, including an exhaustive look at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“It is just not enough time for people to have anything to say,” he said.

Kyle Ripley, Calgary’s director of recreation and the city connection to the Olympic group, said the city administration has the power to amend deadlines as it sees fit, and the focus is now on the final report in June.

Calgary would need new and upgraded facilities to make a competitive bid, and that means redesigning chunks of the town and spending millions of dollars in and around the city. Expanding Calgary’s public transportation infrastructure is also part of the debate, further demanding input from citizens.

And while some Calgarians fondly remember hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics, the reality of pulling off such a spectacle has changed exponentially. The 1988 Games cost $829-million, including construction. Security alone for the 2010 Vancouver Games rang in at $890-million, on top of the $1.9-billion spent by the organizing committee to stage the event. The cost of building venues in Vancouver and Whistler, as well as a new rapid transit line and an upgraded highway to Whistler, pushed the final tab to more than $7-billion.

Funding sports facilities is already a controversial topic for Calgary taxpayers. The owners of the Calgary Flames want to build a megaproject dubbed CalgaryNEXT, which would include a new arena, football stadium and field house. The wealthy group has asked for public cash, a request Mayor Naheed Nenshi has rejected.

Mr. Nenshi unveiled the bid exploration committee, composed largely of former Olympic athletes and members of Calgary’s business elite, on Sept. 19 last year. The document containing the original deadlines was made public that day, although it had been presented to council in June. Rick Hanson, Calgary’s former police chief who serves as the committee’s chairman, pledged to make the committee’s work transparent.

“The committee will provide an interim report to city council and Calgarians in January, 2017, and a final report in July of 2017,” he said at the news conference last fall. “As reports are presented to council they will also be shared with the public” on a city website dedicated to the bid process. The group was to provide council “with its interim findings in January and April, 2017,” the initial committee announcement said.

Mr. Beardow, the committee spokesman, said the initial timeline was just a proposal. It was presented to council at the end of June, but by the time the committee was struck in September, that schedule was no longer possible.

“We worked together [with council] and found a schedule that works for us,” he said. Just days after the committee was announced, for example, city council approved a revised timetable. However, the new plan still demanded an “update report with Initial Draft of concept and feasibility plans” due Dec. 31, 2016.

While the committee will not produce a substantial draft report until April, Mr. Beardow said the group will still present to council in January. The committee will provide a budget for the $5-million it was allotted to evaluate bidding, discuss how much work it has done, detail a “work plan” outlining when it will tackle elements of its review, and present a “governance model,” he said. It is unknown whether the update will be a document or verbal presentation – or whether it will be made public.

The delay in proceedings is due in part to the stalled CalgaryNEXT project, a costly plan with estimates ranging from $1.3-billion to $1.8-billion. CalgaryNEXT’s owners want to build it on the western edge of downtown next to the Bow River. The 15-hectare site is contaminated with creosote, a substance formed from hundreds of chemicals mixing together and used for wood preserving. Creosote Canada Ltd. operated its wood-preserving business there for 45 years until 1969 and left behind an estimated two million litres of creosote, some of which has leaked from a tank into the ground.

Calgary city council believes it would take as much as $140-million and six to 10 years to clean the site. The private group pushing CalgaryNEXT said it would cost $50-million and take two to three years.

Ken King, president of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., confirmed last week the organization was examining a new potential home for the arena, not far from where the Scotiabank Saddledome now sits. That means a replacement for McMahon Stadium, the home of the CFL’s Stampeders, and a public-use field house would no longer be part of the plan.

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