New Olympic bid for Alberta 'possible,' says minister during WinSport funding event

Culture Minister Ron Orr touched on a potential Olympic bid while announcing a $17.5-million investment into infrastructure at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park on Tuesday

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A new bid to bring the Olympics to Alberta is in the works, according to provincial government officials, who on Tuesday announced a multimillion-dollar investment into infrastructure at the home of Calgary’s 1988 Winter Games.

“The question certainly has been raised. Is it a possibility? We’re certainly open to that,” Alberta Culture Minister Ron Orr said at a Tuesday announcement directing $17.5 million toward renovations at WinSport’s day lodge at Canada Olympic Park.

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While details on the potential bid remain scarce, Orr confirmed the province is aware of a “small group of individuals who have put together some proposals” and the province has been involved in the conversations. Orr suggested that Calgary is the focus of those discussions, but did not reveal who the group is or what year they may be bidding on.

“We will certainly be looking at those as they come and as it becomes appropriate to talk about details. Yes, it’s possible,” said Orr. “The city of Calgary has almost all of the amenities it would need for a Games at this stage. And, of course, this kind of redevelopment would obviously add to that.”

In November 2018, Calgarians quashed the city’s exploration of a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, with 56.4 per cent voting against the move in a plebiscite. Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she hadn’t heard anything on renewing that exploration until she heard Orr’s comments.

“I don’t know what Minister Orr is talking about, but I’m looking forward to the provincial government engaging with us as a so-called site,” said Gondek. “I don’t know anything more about it — (I’m) really interested in what’s happening.

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“I have been in (a) council meeting and I’m getting pinged ‘You’re going to have the Olympics?’ to which I said, ‘We are?’ So yeah, I don’t know.”

The Olympic and Canadian flags blow in the wind next to an Olympic torch relay stature at Canada Olympic Park on Thursday, December 9, 2021.
The Olympic and Canadian flags blow in the wind next to an Olympic torch relay stature at Canada Olympic Park on Thursday, December 9, 2021. Gavin Young/Postmedia

WinSport CEO Barry Heck said the improvements at COP could open the door for more world-class events in Calgary, not necessarily limited to the Olympics, but he said WinSport has not been part of any discussions about a potential Olympic bid.

“Any time we enhance and build a new facility that can be used for a world-class event, such as an Olympic bid or a World Cup or an X-Games, it enhances our city’s ability to attract those events,” said Heck.

Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said she would support an endeavour to bring the Olympics back to Calgary but the city would need to improve aging infrastructure from the last Games.

“We need a renewal of our sports infrastructure, and we know that we have stewarded the 1988 Olympic infrastructure in a way that has continued to host international competitions,” said Yedlin.

“In fact, when you travel and you talk to people and say you’re from Calgary, still to this day the comment back is ‘You guys are so lucky. You have such great infrastructure. We wish we had the same thing.’ So would we support a renewal of that infrastructure? 100 per cent.”

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Renovations to support inclusivity, environmental impact

The $17.5-million boost from the province for the 35-year-old Frank King Day Lodge will help extend the life of the building, located at the bottom of the ski and snowboard hill at COP. The facility was used as a media centre through the 1988 Winter Olympics and is still used as a community hub at COP, with hundreds of thousands of guests passing through on a yearly basis. It also houses WinSport’s offices and multiple retail and food services.

“The proposed modifications will make it more accessible and inclusive for Albertans across the province. For the sporting world, this means that para-athletes will now also be able to have more meaningful access to this facility, and disabled visitors will now be able to access the guest services and other amenities housed in the building,” said Orr.

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Heck said the project will revitalize and expand the day lodge, focusing on improving accessibility while reducing the facility’s environmental impact by building to net-zero standards. The improvements will also help draw tourism and sporting events to COP, he said.

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“Although the building has gone through small renovations over the years, it’s now at the end of its useful life. And it’s time to change with the times with a focus on energy efficiency, accessibility, inclusiveness, and just a better, more enhanced guest experience,” said Heck.

Construction at the day lodge is expected to begin next year.
Construction at the day lodge is expected to begin next year. Gavin Young/Postmedia

“Providing accessible, upgraded facilities will make a huge difference in our ability to continue to attract these world-class, top-tier events to our province.”

Paulina Promcharoenwatana is a freestyle skier in Grade 12 at the COP-based National Sport School; she’s vying for a spot on Team Canada at the 2026 Winter Games. Promcharoenwatana, who has been participating in winter sports at COP since she was four years old, said the revitalization of the day lodge is essential so new skiers and snowboarders get the same opportunities and experiences she did growing up.

“For so many people like me, the day lodge here at COP is more than just a building,” she said. “Over the years it has been a place to keep warm between runs, a place to spend time with my family after some fun little races and a place to meet my friends, fellow athletes and new people. Most of my fondest memories are here at this building and on the hill.”

WinSport plots the final cost of the renovations at between $39 and $43 million, with construction set to begin sometime in 2023. The provincial investment matches a $17.4-million federal contribution to the project that was announced earlier this year.

— With files from Josh Aldrich and Brodie Thomas

[email protected]

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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