What do you think of when you see Montreal's Stade Olympique?
White elephant? Architectural anachronism? Continuing financial sink hole? Eyesore?
How about an important piece of cultural heritage?
That's what a committee studying the future of Olympic Park and the stadium that was the centrepiece of the 1976 Summer Games has concluded after a year of analysis, the National Post reports.
Members of the public called the Olympic Stadium dreadful, too expensive, horrible and useless, committee chairwoman Lisa Bissonnette told the Post.
Nothing a couple of hundred kilograms of carefully placed explosives wouldn't cure, right? Well, no, said Bissonnette. Instead of demolishing the crumbling, underused facility, many want the building and surrounding grounds to get a facelift to make it more attractive to visitors.
"People were very enthusiastic," Bissonnette said.
The committee, which published its report on Thursday, is recommending a number of changes, including taking another stab at installing the retractable fabric roof that was part of the stadium's original design, the Post said.
The first version — not installed until 10 years after the Games — was subject to frequent tearing and eventually replaced with a $37-million fixed roof in the 1990s. That, too, ripped in the winter of 1999, sending a cascade of snow and debris onto the stadium floor as workers were setting it up for an auto show. Since then the stadium is closed for events in the winter, the Post noted.
There's no up-to-date price tag for a new retractable roof but the Post said past estimates have put it at around $300.
The committee said other changes should aim to make the site, already home to museums, more attractive to tourists by adding restaurants and perhaps a hotel.
"The Olympic Park can and must become a true park, in symbiosis with the neighbourhood that saw it being born," the report says, according to the Post.
The "magnificent work" of architect Roger Taillibert fits the definition of a "cultural heritage landscape," worthy of protection under Quebec law, the report concluded.
But the report apparently pulled no punches about the stadium's uninviting quality, noting the site's "almost total aridity." It noted that the facing 1976 Games posters were the only sign of the building's brief shining moment. It complained about poor signage and noted that tourists determined to visit the top of the stadium's tower will have to dine out of vending machines, the Post said.
"The idea is also to help change the perception of the Olympic Park, so people stop saying things that are unfair toward it and even toward its creator, Roger Taillibert," Bissonnette said.
Post columnist Barbara Kay would likely qualify as one of those people, saying it resembles "a gigantic spaceship that meant to land with a flourish in downtown Montreal and suddenly ran out of gas and plopped itself down in Montreal's east-end nowheresville."
Kay, recalling a conversation with an architect friend who predicted concrete pieces would be falling off the building, dismissed the committee's facelift recommendations.
[ Related: Concrete falls in lot at Montreal's Olympic Stadium ]
A support beam broke in 1991, sending a 55-ton slab of concrete crashing onto an exterior walkway. And earlier this year a concrete block fell from the ceiling of an underground parking lot.
"'Magnificent work?' 'Cultural heritage'? Excuse me? In what sense does this monstrosity have anything to do with Quebec culture?" she asks in her column.
Nothing, she says. Being part of Quebec's history as part of the Olympics doesn't embed it in the culture, Kay argues. Heck, it's only 40 years old, anyway.
"Second, culture is something that grows organically, and springs up from the lives of real people," she writes. "The cross on Mount Royal is part of Montreal's cultural heritage. The Olympic stadium is not."
And architect Taillebert was not even a Quebecer, she points out "and knew nothing whatsoever about our culture or even our climate." He only built one other version of this design, much smaller, in France where it was not subjected to Montreal's winter weather.
But Bissonette is unfazed. The roof was ahead of its time and technological advances now make it more workable, she told CTV News.
"Given the fact that we're in 2012 and not in 1976, many people have told us that maybe we should look again at the original proposal for a retractable roof," said Bissonette.
If remains to be seen if the cash-strapped Parti Quebecois government or the corruption-plagued City of Montreal will be able to ante up funding for refurbishing what's ruefully called "The Big Owe."
The debt to cover the stadium complex's $1.47-billion price tag wasn't paid off until 2006. It was, and remains, a monument to then-mayor Jean Drapeau's grandiose dreams.