October 16, 2018

Sixteen Hundred Bucks

By Stephen Hunt

Wednesday evening at the Danish Canadian Club, a group of around 50 engineers — many of whom have spent their careers interpreting and analyzing numbers — gathered to hear a presentation from Calgary 2026, as it outlined the costs — and anticipated benefits — of hosting the 2026 Games.

Much was said about the hundreds of housing units being created, both here and in Canmore. (2850 units in all, between Calgary and Canmore).

More was said about refurbishing existing venues (11), building two new venues — a mid-sized arena and long-planned fieldhouse. (Total cost of housing, venue renewal and two new venues: $1.6 billion).

Then there are all the incidentals that accrue from hosting an event that planners anticipate will draw over 500,000 visitors to southern Alberta (in February): things like waste disposal, sustainability, and security ($910 million).

They listened as Fergal Duff, Calgary 2026’s director of venues and infrastructure, explained other items, like creating a contingency fund for unanticipated cost overruns ($120 million), a legacy fund to keep those venues running for 40 years after 2026 ($180 million) — and $220 million to cover the gap between private revenue and the cost of the Paralympics. (The Olympics operating costs are covered by ticket revenue and private sponsorship and a $750 million contribution from the IOC).

There were tons of detailed, specific questions, many of them centred around the numbers — and how the Calgary 2026 team arrived at them.

Duff did his level best to answer two dozen different queries about the costs and the calculations, even though his job was just to run the Powerpoint slides. (“I thought the questions came at the end of the presentation!” he said.)

Finally, one woman asked the question everyone in the room — and the city — has been thinking, but no one had at any information session I’ve attended, had ever asked.

“How much,” she said, “will this cost me?”

“As a Calgarian?” asked Duff.

“Yes. Do you have that number?”

“Yes,” Duff said.

Then he said the number.

“$1600 over seven years, per household,” he said.”

“Not per person?” she said.

“Per household,” he said.

(According to the Calgary Herald, Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran said $1600 or 1800 per household, for 7 or 8 years, in Friday’s paper.)

“What if you’re not from Calgary?” someone else piped up.

“$625 over seven years, if you’re from Alberta,” he said. “$100 if you’re from another province.”

Sixteen hundred bucks.

It’s up to each individual to decide whether that’s a lot or not.

Or too much. Or perfectly reasonable.

All I could think of was, that’s six months worth of Enmax bills.

(Duff added that that isn’t necessarily an additional $1600 — that much of it comes from pre-existing municipal budget items.)

It’s always difficult to judge the mood of a room, but it did feel as if that moment was a bit of a turning point (for the better) with the engineers Wednesday night.

Duff is a Scottish architect who has probably drunk a lot of coffee with engineers over the years, and you could sense they felt comfortable with each other as he parried back and forth with them over one line item or another.

In fact, by the end of the evening, there were murmurs of appreciation, and even approval of the presentation — coupled with a bit of exasperation over the gap between the details of the presentation and the current public perception of how it’s all being rolled out.

“You all seem to have done your homework quite well,” someone said, “and yet this is all being rolled out at what feels like the very last minute.”

At the end of the night, as the engineers noshed on sandwiches prepared by the Danish Canadian Club, two of them sitting at a table with me weighed in on the session.

“I’m leaning towards being in favour,” he said. “That was well presented.”

“Sixteen hundred bucks,” I said. “Seven years. Per household. Those aren’t bad numbers.”

“Just say it would be a couple hundred bucks a year, over seven years,” said the other. “No need to frighten people with the big number.”

stephenbhunt@gmail.com

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