While the City of Calgary has been exploring whether or not to submit a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, some feel Canmore has been left out of the process so far, despite the fact it would potentially host snow sports and an athlete village.
But now Canmore town council is getting serious about understanding the potential effects an Olympics would have, and what exactly the community would get out of it, should it agree to move forward as part of an official bid.
Elected officials voted unanimously Tuesday night (Dec. 5) to fund $200,000 for a capital project to bring on consultants to help the municipality through this process with the City of Calgary, the province, federal government and International Olympic Committee.
Mayor John Borrowman said Canmore needs to be formally involved in the process to have a seat at the negotiating table and direction over how a bid would eventually play out in the community.
“I am very supportive of doing this work,” said the mayor. “We have been talking about this already for some time to start to build an understanding of what an actual commitment might be for the Town of Canmore and the future benefit.
“We have said regularly, and in many ways, we are not prepared to be pulled along on this, we have our own decisions to make.
“Canmore is its own community and we have specific constraints and concerns around the future development of our community.”
The potential cost of hosting an Olympic Games weighed heavily on council, even at this stage of the process.
While Calgary is a city with a million-plus residents and a capital budget program in the billions, Canmore has just 14,000 permanent residents and a restricted land base.
“I am wondering about taking a step back and asking the question financially,” said Councillor Joanna McCallum. “We know the City of Calgary can handle this – they have over a million people, but we are a town … so, from a financial perspective, can we handle this?
“To a certain extent, we are being brought along on a journey.”
Pointing to the Olympic legacy in Whistler, McCallum expressed trepidation that a Games would benefit the community overall. She said the work to understand those implications, however, can no longer be done off the “sides of desks” at the Civic Centre.
“I want to specifically understand how economic development will actually come about as a result of the Games, how liveability (and affordability) would improve in our community as a result of the games.
“In my mind, if none of these things happen, I am not sure I am particularly interested in (hosting the Olympics in Canmore).”
Chief administrative officer Lisa de Soto presented the request for funding to council, indicating the $200,000 would come from the economic development reserve, which is funded entirely through business registry licence fees.
She said now is the time for the municipality and council to begin addressing this issue in a formal way.
“There has been lots of dialogue at the administrative level, but we have yet to have a formal decision with council on the potential for an Olympic bid,” de Soto said. “Given that where Canmore is today is very much reflective of the fact we were an Olympic host back in 1988, and some would say Canmore was put on the map in ’88, the question is: could the Olympics help build the Canmore of the future?”
Currently, the process has moved into a dialogue phase, said de Soto, and if the City of Calgary chooses to submit a bid, that stage would begin next October, with the bid book due to the IOC in January 2019.
“Within the next year, all the work to determine if you are going to bid needs to occur,” she said.
At this stage, a high level financial analysis has set out that potential revenue for a 2026 Calgary/Canmore games would be $2.19 billion, and expenses $4.57 million – meaning a net cost to taxpayers of $2.41 billion, with half of that expected to be covered by the federal government.
“These are very high level ballpark numbers,” de Soto said. “The concept for locations of venues, numbers and types of athlete villages are all still evolving.”
In terms of strategic goals already identified by council, de Soto said a successful Olympic bid could deliver on those objectives. From developing an athlete village and converting it to affordable housing after the games, to funding for transportation infrastructure and improved transit facilities, investment into legacy venues, or even the possible establishment of a resort municipality framework similar to what Whistler saw for the 2010 games – there are significant opportunities for Canmore to consider.
Several sites have been identified in Canmore for a mountain athletes’ village, including on private lands, although the amount of space needed is 30 hectares – or 74 acres.
The potential for economic diversification was also front and centre for de Soto and council. Canmore has tried to position itself as a world-class snow sport destination and in terms of outdoor recreation and tourism, hosting another Olympics locally could contribute toward that goal, according to de Soto.
“There is a legacy opportunity to repurpose an athlete village as perpetually affordable housing or employee housing, which are much needed amenities for Canmore,” she said.
The City of Calgary established a bid exploration committee with a budget of $5 million that has been looking into the possibility of making a bid. That process has not yet evolved into an official bid corporation being established, and a request for the province and federal governments to agree to the process moving forward, including funding.
If the province does not come to the table with funds to support the bid process moving forward, de Soto said, that could be the end of this process.
But if it does, she said there are also other stages of the process where Calgary and Canmore can get on the off-ramp, so to speak.
The $200,000 approved by council would provide funding for administration to hire a consultant to help guide it through the process ($100,000), engage in dialogue with the community around the possibility of an Olympic bid, provide a member of administration to be part of Calgary’s organizational structure to go through this process and funds for the mayor and possibly others to attend the 2018 Games in PyeongChang.
“We feel we need to be engaged in a more meaningful way and we need resources in order to be able to do that,” de Soto said. “The City of Calgary has asked Canmore to provide one project manager to sit in that organizational structure to do the investigative work.”