Canada: Hundreds of Millions for "Big Owe"

source:; author: Paulina Skóra

Canada: Hundreds of Millions for In early February, Quebec authorities officially announced that the renovation of Olympic Stadium roof will begin in summer. This move aims to address the current issues hindering the facility's full potential utilization. How much will this investment cost?


48 years of trouble

Olympic Stadium was commissioned for the 1976 Olympic Games, and its construction has been fraught with difficulties and high costs from the outset. The original plan envisioned a retractable roof, but it proved unfeasible, leading to a permanent cover over the field. In 1986, a piece of the tower meant to aid in retracting the structure fell onto the field during a game. Thirteen years later, the roof collapsed under the weight of snow, and despite numerous repairs, it has consistently been deemed unsafe. These problems have resulted in escalating costs. By 2006, $1.47 billion had been spent on the stadium, which is 10 times the amount assumed when the project was conceived in 1970.

Roof problems remain unresolved, forcing the stadium to close from November to April due to snow. A fixed roof would enable year-round operation and hosting of up to 150 events annually, compared to the roughly 30 currently held.

Olympic Stadium (The Big O)

New roof is coming...

Minister of Tourism Caroline Proulx stated at a recent press conference that Olympic Stadium would be an ideal venue for major international concerts, citing megastars such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or Bruce Springsteen. The government anticipates that the addition of a new roof will result in attracting larger events, potentially generating up to $1.5 billion in tourism and other revenues over ten years. It also expects Olympic Park to generate $61 million in gross income annually, with the stadium alone capable of generating over $20 million annually.

Roof modernization is part of a 2018 action plan aimed at revitalizing Montreal's eastern end. The government also seeks further commercialization of Olympic Park by doubling its tourist capacity, increasing the number of events at the stadium, and offering space for large concerts, conferences, and exhibitions.

New roof will be permanent, rigid, and equipped with a transparent glass rim, allowing the tower to be visible from the inside. It will also illuminate the stadium with natural light and provide views of the night sky. The project will be carried out in three stages over four years, starting this summer. During this time, the stadium will be closed, but the rest of Olympic Park will remain accessible. Cost of this investment is estimated at $870 million.

Olympic Stadium (The Big O)© Guy Plante

...but should a new stadium be built instead?

Moshe Lander, a professor of economics at Concordia University, argues that demolishing the entire stadium and building a new one in its place would be a better idea. However, the Minister of Tourism rejects this concept due to the need to dismantle it brick by brick to avoid damaging the surrounding park and metro line, which would cost around $2 billion. The professor maintains his opinion, arguing that renovations might face delays and increased material and labor costs. It would be more expensive, but only once, he said in an interview with CBC. We call it the 'Big Owe,' and I don't think that's out of love. I think it's emblematic of everything that's wrong with Montreal: cost overruns, corruption, delays, and mismanagement of government funds, Lander concluded.

Currently, Olympic Stadium hardly generates any revenue. It lacks a tenant, as neither Alouettes nor CF Montreal play there. It is also no longer sporadically rented by baseball teams. Concerts there are very rare. Lander argues that the acoustics of the concrete bowl are not good. So whatever is decided in relation to Olympic venue, it is unlikely to get any worse.

Olympic Stadium (The Big O)© slgckgc (cc: by)