$4.6B for another Olympics in Calgary: Exorbitant, miserly, or a 'balanced plan'?

Hosting the Olympics in 2026 would cost a total of $4.6 billion, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee reported Monday, and the immediate reaction was swift.

Calgary Bid Exploration Committee defends price tag as a 'sensible, objective' estimate

Brian Hahn is chair of the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, which is putting together a feasibility study on whether or not Calgary should make a bid for the 2026 Olympics. Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988. (Left: Justin Pennell/CBC, Right: Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Hosting the Olympics in 2026 would cost a total of $4.6 billion, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee reported Monday, and the immediate reaction was swift.

Some Calgarians found that price tag far too high — especially for a city struggling through a recession in a province burdened by massive deficits.

Others considered it embarrassingly cheap for an international competition of this magnitude — especially considering inflation.

By comparison, the Vancouver Olympics (hosted nearly a decade ago) cost about $7 billion, and CBEC's estimates for the 2026 Winter Games were expressed in 2017 dollars.

Re-use of facilities

But CBEC general manager Brian Hahn wasn't bothered by any criticisms of exorbitance or miserliness in his group's estimates.

"Everybody is entitled to their own perspective," he said Tuesday. "What we've tried to do is create a sensible, objective and balanced plan."

That plan includes re-using many of the same facilities built for the 1988 Olympics.

"The best example of that is the Olympic Oval," CBEC chair Rick Hanson said, referring to the speed-skating track at the University of Calgary.

"It still has incredible ice. And many of the venues we have today host international and global competitions, still."

Charles Hamelin, of Sainte-Julie, Que., races to a silver medal in the men's 5,000-metre relay final at the ISU World Cup short track speed skating event in Calgary in 2012. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The luge, bobsleigh, skeleton and freestyle skiing facilities at Canada Olympic Park are all up to world-calibre competition, CBEC noted, as are the cross-country skiing facilities at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

Having those facilities already built would help drive down construction costs, Hanson said, but he noted many legacy buildings from Calgary '88 would still need some level of investment to bring them up to 2026 standards.

"They do require an infusion of cash to maintain their operational feasibility," he said.

New arena, fieldhouse not included

Then there's the sticky question of a new hockey arena, which is not included in the $4.6-billion price tag, but CBEC says would be essential to a bid.

"To host the 2026 Olympics requires two arenas … with north of 15,000-seat capacity," Hahn said.

That could be accomplished if the city and the Calgary Flames come to an agreement on what's been dubbed 'Plan B' for a new NHL facility at Stampede Park, just north of the existing Saddledome.

"Should the arena piece proceed, we could have the new arena and the Saddledome standing in 2026 that would afford a very interesting proximity to each other," Hahn said.

He said the Olympic plan also assumes the city will have built a new, multi-sport fieldhouse by 2026 that could be used as a curling venue with seating for 9,000 to 10,000 spectators.

Federal, corporate support?

In its 5,400-page report, CBEC estimates the $4.6 billion cost to host the games would be offset by $2.2 billion in revenue from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and direct contributions from the International Olympic Committee.

The remaining $2.4 billion would need to be made up from other sources, but Hahn said Tuesday it's likely the federal government could be counted on for half of that balance, as it has indicated a desire to host two major, multi-sport competitions in Canada each decade.

"So we've, I suppose, surmised that that's prospectively available, should a proposal satisfy their needs," Hahn said.

"And then $1.2 billion would be required to be funded by other levels of government or other sources as you might find them."

Possible changes to IOC rules might also make it possible to use corporate sponsorships to help pay for facilities, Hahn added.

"The IOC is coming out with new candidature guidelines," he said.

"We have to wait and see what those are. But for the IOC to be engaging host cities like it is, it would appear, at least, that they're very interested in making games affordable for host cities. So we'll see when those come out, but early returns, at least, are that they're willing to talk about it."

What if Calgary bids ... and loses?

CBEC is due to make its final recommendation on an Olympic bid on July 24, and city council may not make a decision for some time after that.

If Calgary were to bid, of course, there's no guarantee it would win.

Based on past Olympics, putting together a bid as a host city can cost as much as $35 million on its own, Hanson said.

But he said that, too, could change as the IOC revises its requirements.

"The top range would be around $35 million," Hanson said.

"It could be far less than that."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener