The man who oversees Montreal's Olympic Stadium says it's "impossible to think about dismantling" the concrete behemoth, even if a new roof could cost as much as half the price of doing so.
"It's part of the culture of Montreal. It's part of the history of Montreal. It's not a classic stadium with four walls and a roof," Michel Labrecque, head of the Olympic installations board (RIO), said in an interview Friday.
"It's part of what we call the patrimoine. My father, your father, paid for it, built it. So it's impossible, foolish to think about dismantling it."
Labrecque's impassioned defence comes a day after the Quebec government announced the stadium will have a new $250-million roof by 2023, prompting questions about whether it wouldn't be more cost-effective to tear it down.
The Big O's roof has been plagued with problems ever since it was constructed for the 1976 Olympic Games, and it has been steadily deteriorating over the past decade.
Fixing rips cost close to $500K last year
In the last year, the roof tore 677 times, compared to the previous year when it ripped 496 times, according to its 2016 annual report.
In the last 10 years, 7,453 tears have had to be repaired. It cost $498,000 to maintain the roof last year.
It cannot be used if there is more than three centimetres of snow on the roof, rendering it effectively unusable from November to March.
"From a business point of view, we need a roof that is safe, so we can have events in the winters. It's a must," Labrecque said.
The most likely option, he said, is a fixed roof made out of some form of textile, but the RIO will also look at removable options.
The Olympic Stadium hosts between 12 and 18 events — many of them held over several days — per year.
In total, the stadium was in operation for a total of 178 days in 2016, including the time required for preparing and cleaning up after events, according to its most recent annual report.
With the new roof, he said the number of annual events will increase to between 25 and 28, Labrecque said.
Blowing it up not an option
The estimated cost of dismantling the stadium ranges between $500 million and $700 million. Blowing up the stadium and trucking away the concrete and steel isn't an option, he said.
"We cannot implode it. We would have to take a lot of precautions," he said, explaining that it would need to be taken down "block by block" given the nature of the structure, the nearby buildings and two Metro stations.
Labrecque said the stadium continues to serve as an attraction in its own right. The stadium's inclined tower drew 237,000 people last year, and next year Desjardins is set to open a 1,000-person office in the tower.
It's also part of a larger set of attractions in the area, he said, including the Biodome, Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and Saputo stadium.
"It's part of Montreal, with the good and the bad side of it," he said. "To dismantle is to deny ourselves and our history."
He maintained, as well, that the Big O is necessary to bring back the Expos.
"They need the stadium to illustrate that baseball has fans now," he said, pointing to the thousands of people who flock to the annual series involving the Toronto Blue Jays.
If Montreal succeeds in getting a team, he added, they will need a place to play while the new stadium is built. And once that happens, they will need a place with to play in the colder weather, if the team were ever to make the playoffs.
Iconic, sure, but make it more usable, architect says
If the stadium is going to endure, it should at least be made more usable, said Avi Friedman, an architect and McGill University professor.
He acknowledged the stadium has earned an iconic place in the city's skyline, but the functionality of the actual building needs to be improved.
"Places become successful when they are well used. Places that only become a symbol because of their shape and form are of no use," he said.
He suggested, too, that the "wasteland that surrounds the stadium itself" would benefit from a redesign that would make it more welcoming to the public.
"I believe that something that can be done to that."