Calgary, don’t let this great Olympic-sized deal pass you by

Calgary – Herald – LICIA CORBELLA Updated: September 12, 2018 – Pssst. Hey, Calgary, want a great deal?

This kind of deal doesn’t come along every day, or even every 30 or 40 years.

Here it is. You spend $200 million and get more than $3 billion in return in hard assets and about another $3 billion worth of free advertising, economic spinoffs and jobs.

If that sounds too good to be true, it’s not. It’s called the 2026 Calgary Winter Olympics.

No, no, no. Don’t walk away. Even our sometimes seemingly anti-sport Mayor Naheed Nenshi stands by these numbers.

In short, you get a bunch of stuff you need and want, and other people pay for most of it. It’s kind of like remodelling your 40-year-old decrepit kitchen (McMahon Stadium) and all your dated bathrooms with busted faucets and cracked tiles (the speedskating oval, WinSport’s bobsled, luge and skeleton runs), you get to fix the roof and put in new floors (a field house) and some great new furniture (social housing) and all you end up paying for is the paint.

I knew that would get your attention.

On Tuesday, the Calgary 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Draft Hosting Plan was unveiled first in a media briefing and then to city council, and the numbers paint a beautiful picture.

The total cost to taxpayers at all three levels of government is $3 billion. Period. The federal government (Sport Canada) has already said it will fund half of any capital expenditure needed to host the Olympics. That’s $1.5 billion that will be spent elsewhere if Calgary doesn’t decide to host the Olympics. The rumoured number that city taxpayers will have to pay is $500 million, leaving the province to pay $1 billion.

During a scrum following the public unveiling of the plan — expertly delivered by the very impressive Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary 2026, to a packed gallery at city council chambers — Nenshi mused about how hosting an Olympics helps Calgary finally get other peoples’ money for a change, or at least some of our own money back from Ottawa.

“If (the city’s contribution) is about $500 million,” speculated Nenshi, “you have to realize that is over an eight-or nine-year period, the biggest chunk of that is a field house, and we already have a field house on our books that we’re looking for funding sources for over $300 million, which is a facility that is badly needed. That means that the city would be putting in $200 million and in return would be getting several billion dollars in capital infrastructure. That’s a pretty good deal. It’s a huge leveraging exercise,” explained Nenshi, a former business professor at Mount Royal University and Harvard University grad.

“When you look at the facility costs, the ballpark figure to renovate the legacy facilities that Calgary needs to continue to be a Winter Games powerhouse, as we’ve been for so long, (we’ve hosted 175 World Cup events), that costs $500 million to renovate those facilities, that are coming on 40 years old. You add to that the need for a field house — that’s $300 million that we have to do, that’s been on our capital list for a long time. So that’s $800 million that has to be spent anyway, and if we can get that money from other places and also get all of the benefits from an Olympic Games, it starts to sound really interesting to me.”

As Moran says, if Calgary does not host the Games, it loses out on a total of $3.7 billion that would NOT otherwise be spent in Calgary — $2.2 billion of it is private money from the International Olympic Committee, sponsorships and ticket sales, and $1.5 billion from the federal government.

Then there’s the social benefits, which includes the athletes’ village being turned into 80 per cent social and accessible housing with 20 per cent market units. Among the less-tangible benefits, though no less valuable, is the boost to Calgary, Canmore, Alberta and Canada’s reputations.

In the case of Vancouver, said Moran of the 2010 Olympics, the city received about $1 billion in earned media from hosting the Games. To put that into perspective, Calgary Economic Development just received $7 million from city hall to spend over the next three years to boost Calgary’s reputation around the world.

The only thing in this bid that isn’t great is instead of building a new large arena that will seat 18,000-plus spectators and ensure the Calgary Flames stay in Calgary, this bid includes only building a new 5,000-seat arena for the smaller hockey games.

That is short-sighted. Calgary needs another medium-sized arena. After all, the Stampede Corral is almost as embarrassing as McMahon Stadium. What should be built is the plan the Calgary Flames designed, which includes a new NHL arena that will seat more than 18,000 fans and can accommodate those bigger concerts that pass Calgary by, and a 5,000 seat arena as well.

So, come on Calgary. Don’t let this awesome opportunity pass us by. On Nov. 13, vote yes to the 2026 Olympics plebiscite.

Pssst. It’s the deal of a generation.

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