As 2026 host city decision looms, dust settles on Calgary's aborted bid

CALGARY — As the International Olympic Committee prepares to elect a host city for the 2026 Winter Games next week, Calgary sifts through the ashes of its defunct bid.

The International Olympic Committee shortlisted Calgary with Stockholm and a joint bid from Milan-Cortina, Italy as potential hosts of the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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Calgarians shot a potential bid down, however, in a plebiscite Nov. 13, 2018. Of those who cast votes, 56.4 per cent voted against bidding.

That left the other two contenders in a race that will be decided June 24 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

While Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Calgarians need closure on what was an emotional issue, he does have concerns about Calgary's reputation as the country's home of winter-sport.

"Yes, I do," he said Monday. "Not just because of the Olympics, but more because of the fact we had to have the Plan B in place."

Calgary's venues from the 1988 Winter Olympics formed the foundation of a potential bid.

Now over three decades old, a $500-million renewal of Calgary's '88 legacies was a key piece of a proposed bid.

Calgary's sliding track for luge, skeleton and bobsleigh shut down indefinitely in March until money can be found to pay for a $25-million renovation that was initially priced at $20 million by WinSport.

The federal and provincial governments committed $17 million to the overhaul.

The 2021 world luge championship that was to be held in Calgary has been shifted to the track in Whistler, B.C.

"I was very disappointed in how that all played out," the mayor said. "Some years ago, I advocated on behalf of WinSport Canada Olympic Park to get money to refurbish that track and we got the money.

"What I hadn't known was the amount of money we got once they went out to market was actually not sufficient. I wish I had known that. I think we would have had a very different result on the future of that sliding track.

"I continue to believe that is a relatively small investment for a very large benefit and I'll continue to make that case to the other orders of government."

Calgary city council was presented Monday with some financial details of how much money was spent and where on a bid before it was scuttled.

Council heard more reports will be made public in the coming days, but Coun. Jeromy Farkas felt Calgarians deserve to see all documentation.

"I think a lot of the initial material has been released, but no where near enough for us to be able to go to Calgarians definitively and say that they have the complete picture," Farkas said.

"Calgarians are very curious about how much money was spent promoting the 'yes' side in the plebiscite."

The Canadian government agreed to contribute a maximum of $10.5 million, the province $10 million and the city $9.5 million to a 2026 bid.

Of that $30 million, $16.3 million was advanced by the various governments before the bid shut down.

The city spent a few dollars short of $7 million over three years on analysis, bid preparation, wind-up and some plebiscite costs.

There were no agreements in place that Calgary would get to keep unspent money should a bid not proceed, so the feds and the province got refunds May 31.

Nenshi said a few million dollars isn't enough for all of Calgary's '88 legacy infrastructure needs.

"In all these complex legal agreements, there was actually no provision for them to give us that money," he explained.

"Frankly that eight million that was left over certainly would have helped with the sliding track. It wouldn't have gone much further than that."

A cost-sharing agreement between the federal, provincial and municipal governments to host the games wasn't finalized until Oct. 31, which was less than two weeks prior to the plebiscite.

The bid corporation Calgary 2026 estimated the total cost of hosting the games at $5.1 billion.

The Alberta government committed $700 million and the Canadian government $1.45 billion to Calgary should it win the right to host the games. The city was asked to contribute $390 million.

The mayor threw his support behind a bid when it became clear what the city's cost would be.

"Look, we were going to put in $390 million (and) we were going to get $5 billion back," Nenshi said. "That's not economic impact. That was literally checks written to the city to build stuff.

"I think the biggest loss though, is affordable housing."

Calgary's plebiscite cost $2.2 million. The province, which made its funding contingent on a plebiscite, covered $2 million of it.

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