John Bitove and Bob Richardson had breakfast at the Park Hyatt Toronto last Thursday. Few in the hotel's tony restaurant would have realized the significance of the meeting between the two well-connected and civic-minded businessmen just as the successful Pan Am Games were coming to a close.
But it was a sure sign of the serious thinking taking place about Toronto possibly launching a bid for the 2024 Olympics.
Mr. Bitove was the CEO of Toronto's unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Olympics, which were awarded to Beijing. Mr. Richardson was also a key member of that bid and more recently played a major role in bringing the Pan Am Games to the city. He is also close to Toronto Mayor John Tory, having co-chaired his successful mayoralty campaign.
The triumph of the Pan Am Games – a record medal haul for Canada, better-than-expected ticket sales, great sports venues, fabulous weather and not-so-much gridlock – has provided the impetus for renewed talk of Toronto trying to land the biggest sporting event in the world.
But the timelines are tight. Mr. Tory must submit a letter of interest to the International Olympic Committee by Sept. 15, as must the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The COC's Marcel Aubut has said he is behind a Toronto bid.
Meanwhile, some IOC members are already familiar with Toronto's facilities and the city's ability to run an international event. Between 12 and 15 IOC members from the Americas and Europe attended the Pan Am Games and were "extremely impressed," according to a source – one of the key players supporting the bid. IOC president Thomas Bach was in Toronto twice for the Games, where he attended the opening ceremony, toured the new aquatic site and was "effusive" about the athletes village, the source said.
Mr. Tory, however, is cautious. "Nobody's being stampeded into anything here," he said Monday. "This is a serious, rational decision that has to be made."
The letter of interest could be withdrawn before a more formal bid is sent to the IOC in January. The formal bid requires support from the federal and provincial governments, and Mr. Tory would need to put it to a vote at city council.
All levels of government endorsed Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics and did the same for the Pan Am Games. So the framework is there, but "if governments don't want to do it, then it's not going anywhere," the source said.
Although the provincial government is focused on the upcoming Parapan Am Games (Aug. 7-15) and not commenting on a potential Olympic bid, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne embraced the Pan Am Games. She adjusted her schedule to attend events – including water polo, swimming, beach volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics – with her grandchildren, visited athletes and awarded medals.
As for the federal government, PMO spokesman Stephen Lecce said his office had not received any proposals but would review them on their merits if it did.
Toronto would be bidding against Rome, Hamburg, Budapest and Paris. The real competition could be Los Angeles, said the source. Boston's bid was dropped by the U.S. Olympic Committee Monday, paving the way for a bid from the California city, which is considered a very serious contender by Toronto officials.
The winner will be selected in 2017.
The price tag for a Toronto Olympics could be high. A formal bid costs $50-million to $60-million, and the Games could cost $3.3-billion to $6.9-billion, according to a January, 2014, City of Toronto feasibility study.
But that price was calculated before the IOC announced a series of reforms late last year to make bids more affordable after some cities dropped their bids for the 2022 Winter Games because of the high costs.
"This is not what we experienced before – not at all," Mr. Aubut said in a news conference Sunday, referring to the reforms. "It's totally new. … We will be the first player to use this [new system]. They are looking for a two-third reduction in bidding."
Despite the new sports venues for the Pan Am Games, more buildings would have to be constructed for the Olympics. For example, a new, bigger athletes village would have to be built – the Pan Am village is being converted into condos, and more than 10,000 athletes participated in the 2012 Olympics in London, compared with about 6,000 at the Toronto 2015 Games.
The source said a new stadium would also be needed to accommodate 100,000 spectators for the opening ceremony and for the track events. Under the reforms, however, it may be possible to erect a temporary stadium that would not cost millions of dollars.
There is more land available around Ontario Place – on the waterfront – and possibly around Downsview in the north end, said the source.
Also, some of the events could be consolidated on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. The IOC prefers a more compact footprint because it lowers security and transportation costs, according to the source.