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Calgary 2026 Winter Olympic Bid Decision Weighs Cost Concerns

"While administration remains skeptical, we are willing to keep an open mind..."

08/01/2017 06:46 EDT | Updated 08/01/2017 11:04 EDT

Calgary's city administration has raised concerns over how bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics could affect municipal finances, but says the idea deserves further examination.

A report highlighting some of the unanswered questions surrounding a potential bid is going before this week's council meeting. It recommends the city not pursue a bid until some conditions are met rather than rejecting the notion entirely.

"While administration remains skeptical, we are willing to keep an open mind as there appears to be suggestions that mitigating strategies to these financial concerns and risks may be available," the city report says.

"Risks associated with a potential 2026 (Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games) bid are impossible to identify or quantify at this point in time."City report

Some of the conditions include that direct operating costs, excluding security, won't be borne by taxpayers, that other orders of government shoulder security costs and that there be a financial structure that accommodates the city's cash flow and debt level constraints.

A bid exploration committee presented findings to city council last week that were also inconclusive. The 17-member group chaired by former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson said that while it's feasible for the 1988 Olympics host city to have another turn, more work is needed to determine if it would be prudent.

Some of the unknowns flagged in the administration's report include details of the 2026 bid process, what is in the yet-to-be-released host city contract and how other orders of government and the International Olympic Committee may be able help offset the costs.

"Risks associated with a potential 2026 (Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games) bid are impossible to identify or quantify at this point in time," it said.

The administrators' report also raises concerns about the city exceeding an appropriate level of debt if it were to move forward with a bid.

"The City of Calgary is currently facing significant challenges as it balances a number of potential opportunities with their financial implications," it says, noting a multibillion-dollar light rail public transit expansion in the works.

They recommend the city consult with the Canadian Olympic Committee and the bid exploration committee to work out next steps.

When the bid exploration group was formed, it expected a September deadline for the city to decide on a bid.

But the IOC has since extended the invitation phase for 2026 bids, meaning the city has another year to mull it over.

George Gobey/AFP/Getty Images
Jamaican four-man bobsleigh pilot Dudley Stokes jumps in as his three teammates push off at the start of the second run of the Olympic four-man bobsleigh event 27 February 1988 at the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. (PHOTO: George Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

Hanson said last week it's reasonable to expect the city will have the information it needs by early next year.

The bid exploration committee told city council last month that the price tag to hold the 2026 Games would be about $4.6 billion. It said the Games would generate almost half that in revenue, but another $2.4 billion would be needed.

The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., cost $7.7 billion.

Calgary's estimate is lower in part because the city could reuse venues from the 1988 Winter Games.

Sion, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria, are among Calgary's potential rivals for a 2026 bid.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said he's not expecting to see a draft host city contract until after next year's Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The bid exploration committee says it has produced 5,400 pages of analysis and spent thousands of hours studying the issue. The work came in about $2 million under its $5-million budget and the administration said remaining funds can be used for future study.

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