Two years from Wednesday, Hamilton will play host to thousands of fans and elite level soccer at the 2015 Pan Am games.
To mark the countdown, the city is launching an event at Sackville Hill Park Wednesday evening with a parade of Pan American nations' flags, live music, food and a celebrity/media soccer game.
It's part of a series of events happening around the GTA in locations where games events will be held in 2015. For Hamilton, it's a way of previewing how the the city wants to make the games more than a sporting event into a multi-cultural, artistic and tourism one as well.
"It'll be a bit of a test for Toronto 2015," said Greg Maychak, the city's manager of Pan Am Initiatives. "But everything is progressing very well."
Close to 7,000 athletes from across Latin America, South America, the Caribbean and North America are set to compete in 36 Pan Am sports and 15 Parapan Am sports at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Municipalities all over southern Ontario are taking part, stretching from Oshawa to Welland.
"The hope is that this leaves a lasting legacy for sport in the region for years to come," said Teddy Katz, the chief spokesperson for the games.
'The experience at the games is going to be outstanding.' —Greg Maychak, city manager of Pan Am initiatives
The centrepiece of the games for Hamilton is a new stadium to host the soccer competition. The Pan Am team is already thinking ahead to next year's countdown event, and hoping that the one-year mark will coincide with the unveiling of the new Pan Am Stadium, built on the old Ivor Wynne site.
The old stadium is mostly rubble now, but the steel to construct the new stadium should be coming in this summer, Maychak says. Shortly after, the stadium "superstructure" will start peeking over the houses in the east end neighbourhood, he says.
The 2015 games will mark the first time both the women's and men's national teams have played in the tournament in years. The women's team beat Brazil in the 2011 Pan Am Games for a gold medal, but the men's team hasn't participated since Winnipeg last hosted the games in 1999.
Maychak is expecting "tremendous" soccer with teams coming in from Brazil, Mexico and the U.S. "We're going to have world class competition."
Right now, Pan Am employees are working on both security and transportation strategies for the games. "All plans are progressing extremely well. We're on target," Maychak said. "On the security side, things are pretty extensive. It will be an area of high security."
People will be screened going in and out of the stadium, as will cars heading in and out of the stadium precinct, Maychak says.
Parking at the stadium will be extremely limited, so the city will be providing a park and shuttle bus service — but hasn't determined just where those locations will be yet.
The schedule for the games isn't set in stone just yet, but people can expect two games a day each day from July 10 to July 26, Maychak said. Ticket costs are also up in the air, but keeping in the spirit of the Pan Am Games being the "people's games," tickets will be "very affordable," he said.
The city is also planning a series of cultural events around the games. Though it hasn't been officially confirmed yet, the city is looking at waterfront celebrations each day that celebrate a specific culture and theme. One day could be Brazil, the next Mexico — featuring music, food and entertainment from those regions.
The Pan Am committee is expecting one third of ticket sales to come from soccer events, and for the biggest crowds to be in Hamilton.
The Pan Am committee is hiring about 400 employees total Katz says, and they're about one third of the way finished hiring. Only a handful of those employees are coming from Hamilton.
"But in Hamilton we will need hundreds of volunteers," Maychak said. In total, the games will need 20,000 volunteers around Ontario.
Information on volunteer opportunities should be out by this fall, and people can apply and indicate they want to volunteer in Hamilton. Volunteer tasks will range from making sure locker rooms have towels and snacks to people acting as team liaisons.
"The experience at the games is going to be outstanding," Maychak said. "There's just nothing like a multi-sport games."
The Pan Am Games run from from July 10 to 26 and the Parapan Am Games run from August 7 to 14.
The Pan Am two-year kickoff event is taking place on Wednesday, June 10 at Sackville Park at 780 Upper Wentworth Street. The event includes food, music and a celebrity soccer game including Kara Lang, a former women's national soccer player and halftime entertainment from former Canadian Idol Brian Melo. It runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.