Calgary

WinSport says it needs millions more on top of $17M already committed to keep sliding track open

A renovation project on the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, built for the 1988 Games, has already received $17 million — but the organization says it needs more or could be forced to close it.

Organization has already received $17 million for renovations but says it's short funds to finish job

The sliding track at Canada Olympic Park could close for good if governments don't provide more money, says WinSport. (CBC)

WinSport says it doesn't have the funds to finish a renovation of its sliding track in Calgary and will have to reconsider the facility's future unless it gets more government money. 

The organization has already received $17 million from the province and Ottawa for the project at Canada Olympic Park.

In a letter to staff from the president and CEO, Barry Heck says WinSport still needs an additional $8 million.

"I want to inform you that we have made the difficult decision to stop the track renovation project," he writes. "The sliding track at WinSport was built for the 1988 Olympics. It's more than 30 years old and at the end of its lifecycle. It needs a completely new refrigeration system and other upgrades."

2026 bid

Heck says the end of Calgary's proposed 2026 Olympic bid and the funds that would have come with it means they have to "hit the pause button."

"The path to secure WinSport's long-term future, including restarting the track project, begins with discussions with the provincial and federal governments," he wrote. 

"These discussions have begun, and we are working hard to find a solution to ensure our viability for generations to come."

Dale Oviatt, a spokesperson for WinSport, said the costs of the renovation increased, but the organization also determined that it needed to think about future costs. That could cost more than the additional $8 million needed. 

"As we started to do the math on it, building and upgrading the track is one thing, but let's look ahead 30 years and how are we going to do that when we subsidize the track to about $750,000 a year and how are we going to do that?"

Oviatt said WinSport has not yet received the funds from the federal government and that $10 million from the province is being held in a trust account. 

Provincial response

Ricardo Miranda, Alberta's minister of culture and tourism, said In an emailed statement that they're committed to helping. 

"We committed the full $10-million ask for the sliding track project in our 2016 budget. We are more than willing to continue to work with WinSport and have expressed a willingness to alter the funding agreement to help with its needs," Miranda wrote. 

"We are disappointed that WinSport has stopped construction of the project, which will have a significant impact on luge, bobslegh and skeleton athletes. "

Sports organization 'shocked'

Chris Dornan, a spokesperson for Bobsleigh Skeleton Canada, says the announcement came as a shock. 

"Namely because of the amount of government funding that has already been in place and the commitment that was made by WinSport over the last year that, regardless of the outcome of the 2026 bid, there was assurance that it would have no impact on this project," he said. 

"Most importantly, the upgrade to the refrigeration system, so for sure there was shock yesterday when our sport organizations received word."

Dornan says his organization wants to stay in Calgary and is working with partners to find a solution to the situation. 

No warning for city

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was also surprised by the announcement.

"I don't mind telling you I was a little bit surprised when I heard about it on the news today and I want to find out more," he said. 

WinSport has not raised the issue or asked the city for money, according the mayor. 

"Certainly if this was such an urgent need, I'm a little surprised that I hadn't heard about it until today," said Nenshi.

March 3 closure

The track will close on March 3, as originally scheduled, after hosting the a world cup event Feb. 22-24, according to Heck. 

He says the refrigeration system will then be shut down. 

"As a result, the operation of the track during the 2019-20 season will be impacted — and possibly will not operate next season."

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.

With files from Colleen Underwood

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.