Montrealers weigh future of Big O during weekend tours
MONTREAL - Hundreds of people were escorted through the halls of the much maligned Olympic Stadium Saturday with one goal in mind: to find a better use for the empty structure.
Opened in 1976, in the Olympic Stadium was built to welcome the world via the Olympic Games. Once the event was over, the Expos and Alouettes moved in.
But these days, no one calls the Big O home -- one of the reasons about 1,000 average Montrealers are expected to file through the stadium throughout the weekend to offer ideas on how to put it and the surrounding park to better use.
"You have to transform it into some kind of an interesting park where people could go, as they go in other big cities," said Lise Bissonnette, chair of the advisory committee on the future of the site.
Visitors Saturday were given a ride up the funicular to the observation area at the top of the stadium's tower, offering a view of the stadium and surrounding grounds.
Some residents say the concrete - enough was poured during construction to build a sidewalk from Montreal to Miami – should be replaced with greener pastures.
"I think it would be wonderful if they created a really open area - green space, parks - for a lot of the people, the high density of residents around here," said visitor Derek Robertson.
Other visitors said the site should be restored to its intended use - a world-class sports venue.
"The more they can do as far as keeping people active would be great. Definitely they should put a skate park somewhere," said Big O visitor Marc Tison.
Leonard Ayoub, who also toured the building, agreed.
"We could bring it back to a first-class sports facility. We'll have to figure out a logical result for this roof," said Ayoub, referring to the continued problems with the initial retractable roof, which lead to the installation of a permanent roof in 1998.
Though several visitors recommended simply blowing up the structure, considered by many Montrealers as a white elephant, Bissonnette said demolition comes at a hefty price tag.
"Demolition is not an option," she said, because estimates range up to $500 million to tear down the stadium. That money could be put to better use, she said.
Bissonnette's report on the future of the site should be prepared by late next year.
The stadium's painful legacy
Montreal's 1976 Olympics were expected to bring in enough money to cover its $120 million budget.
But the Olympics ended up costing $922 million.
After 1976, $537 million more was poured into stadium upgrades, including $180 million for the tower and a retractable roof that never worked.
In 1987 a roof was finally put on at a cost of $75 million but the Kevlar material ripped eight times, costing $55 million in repairs.
In 1997 the province paid for a $37 million roof that was supposed to last 50 years. However it ripped within a few months, dumping snow onto a car show below, the second perilous construction-related incident at the stadium, as a 50-ton concrete beam fell in 1991.
The Olympic Stadium, or the Big Owe, as it became known to some critics, costs approximately $170 million per year in operating expenses.
The Montreal Olympics were finally paid off in 2006, costing $3 billion overall including capital and interest.
The tourism benefits were negligible. Montreal attracted 32 percent more tourists in 1976 than it had the previous year. The total of 5.8 million tourists that came to Montreal in 1976 was rarely surpassed in the city in subsequent years.
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