Construction for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics was supposed to be lean and
efficient, with every cost under control, if only to show those incompetents in
Montreal that westerners know how to do these things. But suddenly the Games are
embroiled in a Montreal-like dispute over soaring costs, complete with charges
that the provincial government is covering up the facts. Some Calgarians fear
this is only the start of a scandal that could saddle the city with debts to rival
the $1.2 billion shortfall Montreal faced after the 1976 Summer Games.
That seems unlikely because the Winter Games are much smaller than the summer
event, but Calgarians still have cause for worry.
The controversy centres on the Saddledome, a 17,000-seat stadium being built
on Calgary's famous Stampede Grounds. Named for its roof, which resembles a giant
saddle, the stadium will host Olympic hockey and skating events. Unlike Montreal's
still-unfinished Olympic Stadium, the Saddledome will be completed far ahead of
schedule. It is expected to open Oct. 15 with an NHL game between the Calgary
Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.
The problem is money. The Saddledome was expected to cost $83.5 million,
but the Olympic Coliseum Society, which oversees construction, recently discovered
that the project is $16.5 million over budget. This was a shock to the city's
pride as well as its pocketbook. The society asked the province to investigate,
and a team of experts from housing and public works began to poke into the books.
Their report was a long time coming, and when it was ready the government treated
it like a ticking bomb, distributing only a two-page summary of the full study.
Even that was confidential until the Calgary Herald obtained a copy. The summary
provided few details, but many of its 11 conclusions were startling. It said
- The project's cost-control and reporting methods were inadequate
- The construction company (Cana Construction Ltd.) didn't tell the society
about possible overruns soon enough
- Cana should have provided adequate cost projections for cost-plus work
- Teamwork and communications were faulty, and that
- The final cost is still unknown.
The summary also faulted the society's project manager for relying too much
on Cana's advice. The manager at the time was Bill Pratt, who is now in a crucial
job as president of the Olympic organizing committee. These results sound alarmingly
like the "Montreal disease," especially since it's already known that one contract
has been awarded without public tenders, and is expected to cost double the $4 million
expected. City aldermen, who are stuck with covering most of the deficit, are
demanding all the information behind the province's study. So are several MLAs
from Premier Lougheed's own government.
Tory MLA Stan Nelson, a former Calgary alderman, says he's embarrassed because
he can't tell his constituents what's going on. "As a member of the Calgary caucus,
I'd feel more comfortable if I knew what I was talking about." But the government
flatly refuses to release the full study. Norman Fleming, a deputy minister who
headed the probe, said people who want reassurance "can trust their mayor and
trust me for the province ... we're not prepared to join in any orgy in this thing."
This doesn't satisfy Elaine Husband, an outspoken alderman who wanted to delay
funding the deficit until the province came clean. "I suggest there are some names
named [in the full report]," she says. But the province doesn't want to reveal
them because "it would look a little silly internationally" if top Games officials
Meanwhile, nearly everyone who knows anything has fallen silent. Bill Pratt
refuses to discuss the Saddledome. Society members who appeared before city council
said their lawyer had advised them not to talk. Cana Construction says it has
"no objection to a full scale investigation," but won't discuss the findings.
The Pengrowth Saddledome, is the primary indoor arena in Calgary, Alberta,
Canada. It has a seating capacity of 19,289 and is the home arena of the Calgary
Flames of the National Hockey League, the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey
League and the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League. The facility
hosts concerts, conferences and other sporting championships, and events for the
Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.
Located on the Stampede Grounds on the east end of downtown Calgary, the Saddledome
was built in 1983 to replace the Stampede Corral as the home of the Flames and
to host ice hockey and figure skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The arena
underwent a major renovation in 1994-95, during which its original name of Olympic
Saddledome was changed to Canadian Airlines Saddledome. The facility was given
its current name in 2000.
The Saddledome is owned by the City of Calgary who leased it to the Saddledome
Foundation, a non-profit organization, to oversee its operation. It is managed
by the Calgary Flames who have a lease agreement until 2014. The Flames have expressed
a desire to build a new arena, leaving the long term future of the facility unclear.