October 18, 2018

Retooling the Olympic Oval for another 31-year run

By Stephen Hunt

What happens to our 1988-era winter Olympic venues if we don’t bid on the 2026 Games?

The fact is, we have already built them. They’re here, being used, sometimes every day, by thousands of Calgary residents.

In the 30 years since we last hosted a Winter Games, they have shaped our city’s brand and sense of itself — maybe not to the same degree as the oil and gas industry, or the Stampede, but you know what?

I bet if you walked into a speedskater’s bar anywhere in the world and told them you’re from Calgary, they’d buy you a pint.

(That’s a metaphorical speedskater’s bar.)

Our Olympic Oval is speedskater bait, according to the Oval’s director of marketing, sponsorship and special events, Jamie Seguin, who was in the audience Thursday at a Calgary 2026 meeting at Mount Royal University sponsored by Sport Calgary to discuss the impact of a potential 2026 Games bid on Calgary.

The Olympic Oval has hosted 34 world championship skating events. It is also open to university athletics — it hosts a wide range of provincial, regional and national events — and to the community at large.

30,000 Calgarians a year use the Olympic Oval to skate in, play hockey, ringette and figure skating.

It’s one of eight venues budgeted to be renovated by a bid for the 2026 games.

It needs better broadcasting facilities, says Seguin. It needs to be rebuilt to become more accessible.

31 years after it opened, in September, 1987, it needs a bit of an upgrade.

Makeover

“In 1988, the levels of accessibility that were standard were very different from what they are today,” said Seguin, in an interview following Thursday’s session.

“We have one small, four-person elevator to allow people who are mobility-challenged to access the ice.

“There is no way of accessing the infield inside the oval ice if you are in a wheelchair or any other method, whereas (with the) newer ovals, or (other) renovated ovals — a good one is one of the premier venues in the Netherlands — where they put in a wider tunnel, with accessibility elevators on both sides,” he adds.

Those accessibility limitations became apparent at a 2017 long track world cup event.

“(Disabled Calgary Centre MP) Kent Hehr was going to come to the event and speak, but we would not have been able to get him to the infield to the location on camera, because we physically don’t have that infrastructure.

“That would be something that would be built into the (proposed) renovation.”

When people talk about the numbers — that $5.2 billion budget — there are suggestions that they’re fake, that the real cost of hosting in 2026 will be much higher.

But hidden inside all this numbers talk is another bunch of hidden numbers — namely, economic activity generated right now, that’s been generated for the past 31 years, by Calgary’s 1988 Olympic venues.

Flash forward for the next eight years leading up to 2026, not to mention the 30 years after, and that’s a whole other set of numbers no one has fit onto a Power Point slide to justify a bid yet — but there are echoes of that hidden economic activity popping up at every single event Calgary 2026 stages.

“We host a huge amount of international athletes,” Seguin says. “At one point, in September, we had over 250 international athletes from a variety of countries training at the Oval long term — for the entire season, which is huge.

“They’re staying in hotels, they’re going to restaurants, they’re coming to our city,” he says. “There would be no other reason for them to come to our city if there wasn’t an Olympic Oval.”

And if there are no 2026 Games here, what does that mean for the Olympic Oval?

“Mary Moran put it best; if we don’t get the Games, it’s a much harder path to continued sustainability,” he says.

“To get the games provides a concrete roadmap to another 30 years.”

Stephenbhunt@gmail.com

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Twitter@halfstep

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