The last few Winter Olympics have cost the hosts about $3.2 billion each, but Calgary could reduce those expenses by making use of existing venues and "clustering" events together, according to the group exploring a potential bid for the 2026 games.
"Those venues are still in generally pretty good shape," Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) chair Rick Hanson said of the city's legacy facilities from when it hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.
He said one area where the city couldn't skimp, however, is on arenas.
"You do require two full-sized arenas to host the games," Hanson said. "So that's just a fact."
The number of sports and athletes has roughly doubled since the 1988 Olympics, he said, and one major arena is no longer sufficient to host the number of hockey, figure skating and other ice events that are now part of the games.
How that fits with the current controversy over the cost and location of new venues for the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders is not specifically part of CBEC's role, but Hanson said the committee isn't "blind" to the debate, either.
"All we can identify is the fact that we are going to need two arenas," he said.
"How that plays out, we'll find out down the road like everybody else."
Costs in Vancouver, Turin, Salt Lake City
CBEC general manager Brian Hahn said the committee examined the expenses and revenues of the last four Winter Olympics but largely excluded the games in Sochi because they were an "outlier" and not as comparable to Calgary's potential bid.
That left the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy and the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, which Hahn said were all costly for the hosts.
The two biggest chunks of those net costs were facilities and security — about $1.5 billion each, on average — plus another $180 million for operations and $12 million for the bid itself.
While CBEC has yet to finalize an estimate for what the 2026 games would cost Calgary, Hanson said the city is better positioned than previous hosts because it has Olympic-calibre facilities that were built for the 1988 games and have been well maintained since.
"Will there need to be some adjustments or some improvements? Sure," he said.
"But it's not going to be anywhere near $1.5 billion."
Hanson, the city's former police chief, also said security costs could be reduced by "clustering" venues in certain parts of Calgary such as Stampede Park and Canada Olympic Park.
"You can really reduce your security costs as opposed to when you have venues all over a geographic area," he said.
Advantages of Stampede Park
The committee has been looking heavily at Stampede Park as both a potential site for sports venues and as a "gathering point" for the games in general.
While people tended to gather at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary during the 1988 Olympics, Hanson said that location would be harder to secure and generally less suited to the event's needs in 2026.
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Hanson noted Stampede Park already sees 150,000 people a day move in and out during the Calgary Stampede and has more flexibility for a variety of purposes.
"You could put thousands and thousands of people down there, watching the games on big-screen TVs, even if they don't have tickets, and be part of some of the awarding of medals," he said.
It would also be a leading contender as a venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, he said.
As for alpine events outside of the city, Hahn said the committee is looking at Nakiska and Lake Louise — or some combination of the two ski resorts.
Full report due in July
Hanson stressed the committee has yet to finalize its own cost estimate for Calgary's potential bid, nor has it come to any conclusions about its final recommendations.
"When we report back to city council, we're doing so with confidence that this is what the numbers will look like for Calgary — not just a wild guess," he said.
Cost questions aside, Hahn noted some changes could affect the ability of hosts to capitalize on revenue streams.
"The IOC (International Olympic Committee) owns the television rights and key sponsorship rights," he said.
"That's a change from '88."
In general, Hanson said the committee would need to see a broader benefit to Calgary and the surrounding area from hosting the Olympics if it were to recommend going ahead with a bid.
"We're never going to justify huge capital costs based on 16 days, nine years from now," he said.
"Either there's a need for this for Calgary or for Southern Alberta or for the region — or there isn't."
The exploration committee is due to report to city council in July.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi reiterated Monday that, in his view, "public spending must come with public benefit."
In general, he said council will have to consider several "fundamental questions" over the summer.
"Is it worth it? Can Calgary do it? Is it the right time for Calgary? Do the numbers make sense? Do we have the right level of participation from the other orders of government?" he said.
"And unless the answer to all of those questions is yes, then we won't move forward."
Ken King said Monday it's "no more than a happy coincidence" the CBEC needs two arenas at a time when King's group is seeking a new arena and event centre.
King is president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders. He said a new arena can't become contingent on a successful bid for the Winter Games, because it will take too long.
"Frankly, the chances of success on an Olympic bid are certainly not remote, but we need to have a much higher degree of certainty than that," he said.
King said "productive discussions" around a new arena are ongoing.
"Nothing is guaranteed in this tumultuous day and age, but I think we're making some real progress with the city," he said.
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