2026 Winter Games will cost Calgary $4.6 billion: bid exploration committee

CALGARY — The price tag for Calgary to host the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games will be about $4.6 billion, according to a bid exploration committee.

The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) told city council Monday that revenue the Games generate would cover almost half the cost, 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 can re-use venues from the 1988 Winter Games, CBEC chair Rick Hanson said.

“Having pre-existing facilities made a significant impact,” Hanson said. “On average, you would have to look at $1.6 billion in some cases to built the facilities that are necessary for the Games.

“Because we had existing facilities, we’ve got that number well under half a billion dollars.”

CBEC and city administration will make final recommendations to council on a possible bid July 24.

“I’ve always said I will be persuaded on this particular issue by the evidence, so I just see this as a presentation of a bunch of evidence,” Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “Me and council and the public … will have to really cogitate over this and chew on some of these numbers and see if this is something we want to do.”

The International Olympic Committee no longer requires the Canadian Olympic Committee to put forth a candidate city by September, which was the initial deadline the committee worked under, Hanson said.

The IOC has yet to reveal bid procedures and guidelines for 2026. The IOC has indicated the formal bid process for 2026 won’t start until after February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It means we’ve got some time to do some thinking here,” Nenshi said. “It would be very difficult for council to make a final decision to move forward without knowing what the IOC host city agreement will be.”

A wrinkle in a potential Olympic bid is Calgary’s civic election on Oct. 16. Nenshi is running for a third term.

CBEC was given $5 million by the city last year to investigate whether it is feasible for Calgary to host the 2026 Winter Games in a “financially responsible manner” and if it is “prudent” for the city to do so.

Led by Hanson, a 17-member committee delved into facilities, security, community interest, finance and government support.

With fewer cities interested in bidding for Olympic Games, the IOC has tried to make it easier and less costly to do so under an Agenda 2020 program that is essentially “reduce, re-use and recycle.”

Calgary fits that bill having invested in its 1988 venues to keep them not just operational, but still hosting annual international events.

But gaps exist particularly in hockey arenas. The city is currently negotiating with the Calgary Flames on location and who will play for what in a new NHL arena.

Two NHL-sized arenas are needed to host a Winter Olympics, Hanson said.

Calgary’s former police chief also addressed why the projected security budget of $610 million is less than Vancouver’s approximately $900 million.

“It was a different world then. Canada was in Afghanistan. There was a war going on and they (Vancouver) had their own considerations. It’s a port city. That adds a level of complexity,” Hanson said.

“A lot of the security planning was done post 9-11 leading up to 2010. There’s been another seven years since the 2010 Games,” he continued, pointing to more sophisticated security methods and measures worldwide.

CBEC’s estimate showed operating costs exceeding operating revenues by $425 million.

“I’m going to have to take a lot of convincing to be told we should be running an operation deficit in that range while other parties like the IOC and the COC actually make a lot of money off of sponsorship and TV rights,” Nenshi said.

“The risk cannot be entirely held by the host city in my opinion.”

Nenshi also reiterated that a bid can’t go ahead without financial support from the provincial and federal governments.

“We haven’t had any indication yet that they’re in,” the mayor said.

CBEC conducted a poll of 2,000 people in the Calgary and Bow Valley corridor in March with two-thirds indicating support for an Olympic bid, but over half expressing wariness about costs.

“We are pleased to see high levels of public support for the bid fuelled by the overwhelmingly positive legacy of the 1988 Games that helped cement Calgary as a global leader in winter sport,” COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt said in a statement.

“As CBEC works toward its final recommendations, we remain committed to working with the public and stakeholders at all levels to determine whether the right conditions exist for a 2026 bid to become a reality, for Calgary and for Canada.”

Sion, Switzerland, Innsbruck, Austria, Almaty, Kazakhstan and Sapporo, Japan, are among cities that have also expressed interest in a 2026 bid.

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