Calgary Olympic Bid Corp. sees long term housing benefits to hosting 2026 Games

A draft plan for a potential Calgary 2026 Olympic bid says the event could create more affordable housing in a region that badly needs it and provide a welcome jolt to the provincial economy.

“Calgary has one of the lowest stocks of affordable and social housing in the country relative to the size of the city,” the Calgary 2026 bid corporation said in a report presented to city council on Tuesday, noting a shortfall of 15,000 affordable housing units.

2026 Calgary Olympics
While many economists warn against mega-events like Olympics, some are arguing that Calgary’s 2026 bid could bring substantial housing benefits. Photo by Cszmurlo via Wikimedia Commons.

The plan envisions spending $600 million on about 2,800 units that would temporarily house athletes and officials during the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games and then be turned over to long-term housing. About 20 per cent would be at market rates, with the rest set aside for affordable housing and other non-market uses.

There is a plan for three to four new affordable housing projects that would yield at least 600 units, as well as a new 200-unit senior’s complex. It also said there could be new housing for urban Indigenous people and students.

An athletes’ village planned near the Stampede Grounds would accommodate 3,100 people during the Games. After, that would be converted into 70 affordable, 140 attainable or near-market and 500 market units.

The hosting plan also sees Canmore — a town about an hour west of Calgary that would host biathlon and cross-country ski events — building a 1,200-bed athletes’ village that would be repurposed to more than 240 affordable housing units.

“The greatest challenge facing the Canmore municipality is community affordability and specifically access to affordable housing,” the report said.

Construction on the new housing would take place in 2024 and 2025.

The plan does not mention any new spending on public transportation in the city or mountain venues. It assumes a previously planned new rail transit link between downtown and southeast Calgary will be complete by 2026.

The bid corporation pegs the total cost of hosting the Games at $5.23 billion, of which about $3 billion would be shouldered by taxpayers at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

But Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran, who is on leave from her role as head of Calgary Economic Development, said it’s important to look at the bang for the buck.

“I’ve been involved with economic development for nine years and I can tell you that there aren’t a lot of files that are coming down the pipeline that will create the number of jobs and that will have the same kind of GDP impact.”

She said it’s estimated there will be $2.2 billion in private investment and up to $1.5 billion in federal cash that would never flow without the Olympics, as well as a $2 billion lift to Alberta’s gross domestic product as a direct result of the games and $200 million in tax revenues.

Moran figures a bid could create roughly 2,200 jobs.

“They’re not full time. They could last for seven years. They could last for five years,” she said.

There’s also the benefit of new and refurbished sports venues that would be used in the future. Eight existing venues — several from the 1988 Olympics and the ski jump in Whistler, B.C., built for the Games — are part of the plan. It calls for two new builds: a new fieldhouse and a mid-sized arena.

Moran cited less tangible benefits like the boost to Calgary’s profile on the world stage.

“If you look in the case of Vancouver, they had about $1 billion worth of advertising value during the Games, which would be hard for the civic partners in this community to achieve without a big international, well-televised global event like this.”

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