Could The 2026 Olympics Get CalgaryNEXT Built?

Out east, the folks in Toronto seem to be waning on the idea of bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. After all, developing and submitting a bit would cost some money, and being that we’re in a recession, they probably don’t want to put too many of their eggs in one basket.

But out west? Well, a report by Postmedia’s Vicki Hall earlier today indicated something both eyebrow-raising (but not the least bit surprising) – there’s some work being done in Calgary on a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Now, the rest of Hall’s piece focuses on a potential internal conflict within the Canadian Olympic agency between Quebec City and Calgary. Quebec City wants to host an Olympics and has been trying for years to get a bid going. Calgary? The Stampede City has been there, done that, and the majority of Canada’s winter Olympic pipeline – in terms of training and development of high-level athletes – goes through Calgary and the facilities originally constructed for the 1988 games.

Which brings us to CalgaryNEXT and why there’s suddenly a renewed interest in Calgary bidding for the Olympics.

The Flames want to build a new arena and a new stadium, with a fieldhouse included. The city? Well, they don’t seem out-and-out opposed to the idea, but they seem to share the widespread public concern about the funding model. Everyone wants shiny new toys, but nobody wants to have to sell their clothes in order to buy them. The Olympics suddenly look pretty appealing because of the potential for a magical influx of external funding.

Vancouver received roughly $600 million from various levels of government – primarily federal – for construction and renovation of venues for the 2010 Olympics. (The city of Vancouver also kicked in a bunch of money to spruce up their city in various ways.) Theoretically, a 2026 Calgary games would receive similar funding. While most of the 1988 venues would probably need renovation, the foundations for holding an Olympics are pretty decent right now – especially given that few countries typically put in bids for winter games due to their costs. That could potentially allow for a good chunk of that governmental money to be used by the city to assist in building the mega-project that is CalgaryNEXT. And an Olympics could be used by the city to garner more infrastructure funding to spruce the city up for impending Olympic visitors – if you can imagine the city somehow unveiling the completed Green Line LRT prior to the 2026 games the same way it did the first few stations of the Northwest LRT line prior to the 1988 games, you know what I’m talking about.

Would a 2026 Olympics be a magic bullet of money that will solve all of the project’s problems with zero consequences? Well, no. The money would come from a government budget at some level, so giving Calgary money would take money away from somewhere else. But if one of the main pushes towards CalgaryNEXT is a combination of sentimentality and civic pride, exploring an Olympic bid is a pretty savvy way of doubling-down on that approach. The 1988 Olympics were a watershed moment for this city, and the spirit of volunteerism and togetherness allowed the delivery of an event that’s still remembered fondly for its impact on the local community (and for its long-term impact on the sporting infrastructure that Canada still employs today).

Right now, it seems like it’s just some rumblings. There are still two years until cities have to submit their candidacy to the International Olympic Committee (with a municipal election in the interim) – and the Canadian committee still needs to decide between Calgary and Quebec City.

But if you’re like many of us, who like the CalgaryNEXT concept but are furrowing your brow over how the heck anybody can afford to build it, the Olympics may be the best way to have your cake and eat it, too. (Or, in this case, to have your shiny new arena/stadium without having to abandon critical transportation infrastructure projects.)

  • Parallex

    I don’t think that’ll be happening.

    Vancouver wasn’t that long ago and I’m pretty sure that the IOC won’t be in any big hurry to return the Winter Games to Canada (and if they are I doubt that a return to a city that’s already hosted would be taken in favor of a city that hasn’t assuming the bids were close). I think the 2028 Summer Games is more likely for Canada, it’s been a long time since ’76 and TO would have big time appeal and governmental support.

    • mattyc

      What other cities in Canada have mountains with high end runs besides Calgary and Vancouver?

      I could see the winter Olympics coming back here.I think it would be a popular choice.

    • nikkomsgb

      I’d disagree.

      The IOC would have to look at Canada considering the fact that the 2018 games are in South Korea and the 2022 games are going to Beijing. Furthermore Beijing’s only competition was from Almaty Kazakhstan of all places.

      To me the games here would be a huge win. I can’t think of another Olympic city that has made greater use of their legacy facilities than Calgary. The timing will be perfect too, as most of those facilities will be in need of a serious renovation.

      I could be wrong, but I believe I heard recently that the only completely inadequate facility (arena aside) is the Ski Jump.

      That isn’t to say that it would be cheap, but with Calgary already being the homebase for most Canadian Winter Olympic athletes and a perennial option to host all sorts of World Championship events in Winter sports, we could use the upgrade to the facilities to extend their lives another 30 years.

      It would certainly also create an interesting environment to talk about infrastructure projects, like the LRT and Crowchild expansions.

      To me it would take a colossal cock-up for an Olympics games here to lose money. Plus it would focus the world’s attention on us again, which would be nice.

  • mattyc

    The Olympics would be a way to try to secure some federal funding for the project. Seems convenient.

    Having just lived through the Vancouver olympics, I’m not sure they’re great “investments” for cities, but obviously each situation is unique…

    • piscera.infada

      Having just lived through the Vancouver olympics, I’m not sure they’re great “investments” for cities, but obviously each situation is unique…

      They definitely aren’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure the most (nearly only) successful modern olympic games for actually generating revenue, was ’88 in Calgary. Perhaps they could sell that, but generally, they’re basically the equivalent of throwing a billion-plus dollars into a gigantic pit, and lighting it on (admittedly, spectacular) fire.

      • Christian Roatis

        Saw an infographic recently showing the amount of $ spent on the last two Olympics in Canada. Calgary spent 900M and Vancouver was somewhere in the 9-10B. So that’ll be why revenue was generated. Massive spending gap there.

        • piscera.infada

          No doubt, but that’s kind of what an Olympic bid is contingent upon these days. Calgary may be better positioned to hold an Olympic Games for less money, as they have a number of the necessary facilities already, and would only require modest retro-fitting to some of those facilities. That said, the IOC can’t resist the allure of brand new buildings and exorbitant price tags.

        • piscera.infada

          I live in Vancouver and was quite happy with the expenditures. We got major road upgrades, a new rapid transit line (with further real estate development due to it) and some new sports facilities that do get used.

          It’s not like Russia or China where we build massive parks used once. I expect if Calgary or Quebec receives the Olympic s much of the money used will be for projects the city intends to do anyways.

  • mattyc

    This has been in the rumor mill before CalgaryNext was presented.. I heard originally that it would be part of the Olympic bid, so I was a bit surprised it hasn’t been mentioned until now.

    After revisiting the Financial plan for the project, I would still like to see the Flames pay for half of the field house where the Stamps would be playing, and for some of the creosote cleanup.

  • Big Ell

    I texted this exact question to Ken King on the radio and they didn’t ask it. Why not combine a winter Olympic bid with the calgarynext proposal? I’m personally in favor of the project. All the bleeding hearts out there never complain when the city builds a library or music/arts centre or some overpass in the burbs that some of us never use and use our money… but when it comes to sports they bark very loud. The performing arts centre was over 100 million and 20 million over budget built in the 80’s and no one said boo, just before that the saddledome was 77 million and 5 mill over budget and the public wineing {Sue Higgins council woman} was unreal. Hey if a new stadium doesn’t get built guess what? Theres still a creosote cleanup needed and a fieldhouse needed. The funding model isn’t the best and needs tweaking but lets get behind this project.

  • Train#97

    For me this smacks of desperation trying to sell civic pride. I’ve talked with 100’s of people who aren’t part of the vested interest group and most of them are informed of the issue and the proposal and overwhelming they are against the proposal as outlined by KK. They range from people on this site(Flames Fans), to successful business people, to teachers, to nurses to retirees to students. Maybe others are hearing different but that’s what I’m hearing.

    • Big Ell

      Get over it. Calgarians are supportive of a field house, world class facilities and progress in their City. Unlike you they have an open mind and view this as a start to potentially great things. Waiting for couch potato fans to get off their couch and support initiates like this is irrelevant in the big scheme as what counts are the rational city residents that recognize this as an opportunity for improvement rather than an obstacle. They are willing to give this a chance and provide open mindedness input. Not close the door at it’s very inception!

      You are in the minority.

      • nikkomsgb

        Not based on the people I talk too. I ask a simple question to start the discussion: What do you think of the Calgarynext proposal that was outlined by the Flames. The response is overwhelming against. Most including myself are willing to discuss the issue but not under the current situation. I for one see the need for both facilities but the way it’s been sold to me and many taxpayers is not going over well. We must be talking with a lot of different folks. I wonder what a referendum would say.