Quebec government will spend $870 million to replace the roof of the Montreal Olympic Stadium

The Quebec government says it will spend $870 million to replace the deteriorating roof of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, but some sports economists say they are skeptical of the government’s argument.

Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said Monday that the current roof is broken in more than 20,000 places and that if nothing is done, the complex built for the 1976 Summer Games will have to close permanently within two years.

“This monument is one of the cornerstones of the economic and tourism development of Quebec and the east end of Montreal, and… it is being neglected,” Proulx told reporters in Montreal.

Known colloquially as “Big O” and sometimes “Big Owe”, in reference to the rising costs of the 1976 Olympic Games and the resulting debt, which was not paid in full until 2006, the stadium has been plagued by problems in the ceiling for decades. . The original design, which called for a retractable roof suspended from an angled tower, was not completed until 1987. It was replaced in 1998 by a non-retractable roof made of Teflon-coated fiberglass.

The stadium can only open between 120 and 180 days a year due to the fragility of the roof, and events inside the building are canceled if more than three centimeters of snow is forecast. For more than 20 years, the agency that manages the stadium has been asking for its replacement.

The new roof will allow the stadium to remain open year-round and “will nearly triple gross revenue from $23 million to $61 million,” Proulx said. He added that he hopes the stadium can host around 150 major events a year, up from the current 30.

The stadium will remain closed during the four years it takes to replace the roof. Proulx said the work will be complete in 2028 and the new roof is expected to last 50 years.

Proulx says preliminary estimates show that demolishing the stadium would cost $2 billion and would be complicated by the fact that the structure is connected to two subway stations and companies rent office space in the stadium tower.

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer at Concordia University who specializes in sports economics, called the roof replacement a waste of money.

Montreal’s professional football and soccer teams have no plans to move to the stadium, and even if major league baseball were to one day return to Montreal, the league has made it clear that Olympic Stadium will not be the team’s home.

“Who’s left? Who is going to fill 250 dates a year in that stadium? It seems like a lot of money for very little benefit,” Lander said. He said he believes a new roof is unlikely to make the cavernous stadium, which has poor acoustics, more attractive for concerts.

Lander, who would like to see the stadium torn down, said he believes demolition costs have been exaggerated and that taxpayers will have to continue paying to maintain the structure. The stadium, he said, will be a symbol of Montreal’s fight against “cost overruns, corruption, incompetence and governments that finance large-scale projects that have no economic value.”

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor emeritus of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts who has studied the economics of hosting major sporting events, said the new roof will only increase the astronomical cost of the Montreal Olympics.

“It was a mistake to host the Olympics in 1976, and it becomes an even bigger mistake if you can’t reduce losses, you can’t tear down a stadium that has no real functionality,” he said.

However, Romain Roult, director of the department of leisure, culture and tourism studies at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, said the stadium has become an emblem of Montreal. The new roof will allow for more development around the stadium, which already draws visitors to amateur sports facilities, a planetarium and an indoor zoo, he said.

While nothing is guaranteed, a functional roof eliminates “a big unknown for promoters” who currently face the risk of winter events being canceled at the last minute, he said in an interview, although he added that more renovations will be necessary within the stadium.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters she is pleased with the announcement. “You can love or hate the Olympic Stadium, but it’s one of the symbols of Montreal,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.

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