Calgary 2026 draft hosting plan missing curling venue

A young girl learns to skate on the ice at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Plaza in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. The Canadian Olympic Committee session voted Saturday to approve Calgary as a potential host for the 2026 Winter Olympics. International Olympic Committee members will vote on a 2026 host city in September 2019.(Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — If Calgary bids and wins the right to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the plan is to re-use the majority of venues from the 1988 Winter Olympics in the city and nearby Canmore, Alta.

But the draft host plan presented to city council Tuesday by the bid corporation Calgary 2026 had an unexpected loose end involving curling.

The presentation was expected to renew debate over a new NHL arena in Calgary. The city and Calgary Sports and Entertainment — which owns the NHL’s Flames — have been at a stalemate over who should pay how much for a new arena.

But where the curling venue will be located was also in the spotlight.

Curling was a demonstration sport held in the Max Bell Arena back in ’88. Men’s and women’s team curling have been full medal events since 1998.

The addition of mixed doubles at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang means the curling venue would be operating every single day of the games.

"Curling, we’ve had preliminary discussions with a number of locations and venues throughout the province," Calgary 2026 chief executive officer Mary Moran said. "We just haven’t landed on it.

"We’ve had preliminary conversations with Edmonton. It will be a consideration for sure for curling, specifically. It’s not just Edmonton. There are a number of facilities we could select from."

Calgary has yet to decide whether it will bid for another Winter Games.

City council has reserved the right to pull the plug on a 2026 bid at any time, although a plebiscite asking Calgarians to vote on it is scheduled for Nov. 13.

The International Olympic Committee’s deadline to bid is in January. The host city will be announced in September 2019.

Calgary 2026 pegged the total price tag of hosting those games at $5.23 billion, with $3 billion of that jointly funded by the city and provincial and federal governments.

If Edmonton happens to be the site of Olympic and Paralympic curling, it wouldn’t be the most distant venue from Calgary.

The ski jump in Whistler, B.C., is the proposed site for that sport and nordic combined. It is a legacy venue from the 2010 Winter Games in that city and Vancouver.

The draft hosting plan proposed pumping about $500 million into upgrading eight venues that were used in ’88, including McMahon Stadium, Scotiabank Saddledome, Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, Nakiska Ski Resort, WinSport’s ski hill and sliding track, as well as a pair of buildings on the Stampede grounds for the press centres.

The only two new venues proposed were a multi-purpose fieldhouse, which has long been at the top of Calgary’s wish list, and a mid-size arena between 5,000 and 6,000 seats.

The fieldhouse would be the figure skating and short-track speedskating venue in 2026. The arena would serve as the secondary hockey arena with the primary rink the Saddledome.

"It’s a hard balance between being economically responsible and creating great legacies that will be here in the community," Moran explained.

"We’ve got great legacy vehicles and they need to be refreshed and that’s the approach we’re taking.

"We’re not building a new resort town, we’re not building a whole new region with a whole bunch of new inventory."

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi took issue with the need for a mid-size hockey arena. He felt there are existing arenas in town that could work as a secondary arena.

Also, there’s been a slight thaw in the NHL arena relations. A city council committee struck earlier this summer to revive the arena issue and the Flames re-established contact.

"I would have a lot of trouble seeing a future legacy project for the city being a 5,000-seat arena because I don’t know what the future use of that would be," Nenshi said.

"There are ongoing discussions around a new larger arena. If that goes through then we won’t need the 5,000-seater.

"If that doesn’t go through, I would prefer to have a discussion about whether we need to build a brand new 5,000-seat arena or we go into a slightly smaller existing facilities, which would still work for what is required."

Calgary is facing a big recreational facilities bill in the future when the cost of a $300-million fieldhouse is combined with extending the life of the ’88 venues that are now 30 years old.

The provincial and federal government contributions to hosting the games would help in that department, said the mayor.

"That’s $800 million that kind of has to be spent anyway," Nenshi said. "If we can get that money from other places and also get all the benefits of an Olympic Games, that starts to sound really interesting to me."

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