Opinion: This is how the Vancouver 2030 Olympics could create new useful legacies
What could the Olympic Winter Games look like in and around Vancouver for the second time around in 2030?
The idea has been quickly snowballing since last Thursday, when former VANOC CEO John Furlong announced his intention to help drive a bid forward for Vancouver to host the 2030 Winter Games.
In just the first few days of the idea’s infancy, $100,000 has already been raised by the business community towards the costs of a bid committee, and Vancouver city council is set to consider a motion sometime over the coming weeks on formalizing the process of determining the feasibility, costs, benefits, as well as engaging with the federal and provincial governments on funding.
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No decision has been made on whether Vancouver should submit a bid; there is no proposal at this time, as the idea is in an early exploratory stage.
But the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) bid and host city selection process has been completely overhauled ever since 2003, when Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Games.
In 2014, the IOC pushed forward with new reforms — called Olympic Agenda 2020 — that actively encourage bid cities to use existing facilities in a host region to their fullest extent, wherever they are located, or temporary venues. This significantly reduces costs, and effectively prioritizes sustainability and the creation of positive post-Games legacies.
Some new permanent facilities can obviously be included, but the IOC would only see this option favourably if there is a realistic and practical post-Games plan for that venue — such as the post-Games conversion of Richmond Olympic Oval and Hillcrest Centre (formerly known as Vancouver Olympic Centre) into the well-used recreational and community centre facilities they are known to be today.
Moreover, the IOC’s process of selecting host cities is now more collaborative between the IOC and prospective cities, making it far less of a high-stakes, one-way competition, like the one Vancouver experienced to land its Games.
Reuse existing venues as much as possible
The first host cities selected under the new Olympic Agenda 2020 approach were the Summer Games of Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, and the Winter Games of Milan-Cortina 2026. All of their venue plans extensively reuse existing facilities with relatively little construction or public investment, and in the case of the 2026 Games the ski resort of Cortina is over 400 km — about a five-hour-long car drive — from Milan. These reforms have led to renewed interest from cities around the world in bidding for the Games.
For these reasons, with the new flexibility offered by Olympic Agenda 2020, Furlong believes this is Vancouver’s opportunity to shine again, going as far as remarking that Vancouver 2030 could potentially be the first Olympics in decades to use the exact same footprint as its previous Games.
The new competition sports venues built for the 2010 Games are still in good condition and would require relatively little capital reinvestment in 2030.
Whistler as the site for all 2030 outdoor sport venues
Whistler Olympic Park remains fully capable of hosting international biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, and ski jumping events, while Whistler Sliding Centre is still actively used for the sports of bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton. The sliding centre was a venue for a stop of the Luge World Cup in December 2019, and it is slated to host the 2021 FIL World Luge Championships.
Both the ski jumps at Whistler Olympic Park and the sliding centre at the base of Blackcomb Mountain are now the only remaining facilities of their kind in Canada.
The operators of Canada Olympic Park in Calgary recently decided to decommission their ageing ski jump, which no longer meets international competition standards. Calgary’s sliding centre closed in October 2019 due to a shortage of funding to fulfill repairs needed on the equipment. In fact, portions of the track — built for the 1988 Games — have already been demolished, rendering the storied venue unusable.
Whistler Creekside’s Dave Murray Downhill and the 2010-built women’s run remain adequate for alpine skiing events.
During 2010, Cypress Mountain held the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, but given the immense challenges VANOC faced from the lack of snowfall for the 2009/10 season, these events would almost certainly have to be located at the bases of Whistler Blackcomb for 2030.
BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena
Following its extensive renovations in 2011, BC Place Stadium remains a world-class venue with the potential to hold even more elaborate Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, given that it now has far greater flexibility for the spectacles — without any of the previous arduous restrictions of the now-demolished, air-supported roof.
Although Rogers Arena will be 35 years old by the time 2030 arrives, ongoing reinvestment into the home of the Vancouver Canucks will make it a hospitable and intimate venue once more as the primary venue for Olympic ice hockey.
UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre
UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, built as 2010’s secondary ice hockey venue, has become an immensely valuable and highly used asset for the university and the wider community. In 2030, the 5,000-seat venue can be easily re-expanded to its 2010 Olympic mode of 7,000 with the use of temporary grandstands.
Over the years, Thunderbird Sports Centre has held multiple David Cup tournaments, and in 2021 the Canadian National Figure Skating Championships will return to the venue.
The 15,000-seat Pacific Coliseum on the PNE fairgrounds hosted figure skating and short-track speed skating. But in order to extend the 1968-built stadium’s lifespan by another 30 years, the scale of capital reinvestment that a 2030 Games can catalyze is required.
Only relatively modest upgrades totalling $20 million were performed on Pacific Coliseum for the 2010 Games, including minor aesthetic improvements, new replacement seats, expanding the ice surface to international size, ice plant improvements, upgraded washrooms and concessions, and a new climate control systems.
The original home of the city’s NHL team deserves preserving, and it is a major economic generator for not only the PNE but the city and wider region.
Another round of low-cost modest upgrades could potentially be adequate for the 2030 Games, but there is now an opportunity to perform more intensive upgrades that ensure the stadium’s long-term health and viability, effectively protecting this structure with increasing heritage value.
Such a renovation could conceivably be integrated with the Hastings Park Master Plan objectives, including combining the project with the construction of PNE’s long-planned, 150,000-sq-ft convention and exhibition hall located underground in an area wedged by the Pacific Coliseum, Rollerland, and Agrodome.
With or without the 2030 Games, an indoor stadium the size of Pacific Coliseum likely has a replacement value of over $200 million.
Vancouver Convention Centre
With the completion of the West Building in 2009, Vancouver Convention Centre has become one of the city’s most significant assets for tourism generation. As a highly sought after venue for major conventions, exhibitions, and meetings — including the prestigious global TED Conference — the facility remains in excellent condition and is regarded as a world-class facility.
In 2030, the convention centre can easily be reused as the Main Media Centre — the workplace of the vast majority of 10,000 accredited media personnel — with the West Building designated as the International Broadcast Centre and the East Building (Canada Place) as the Main Press Centre.
Hillcrest Centre and Richmond Olympic Oval
There could potentially be some issues with returning Hillcrest Centre, formerly known as Vancouver Olympic Centre, and Richmond Olympic Oval to their respective Olympic competition venue modes of curling and long-track speed skating.
But these challenges are a result of both venues being a victim of their own post-Games success.
Technically, Hillcrest Centre could be reconverted into a 6,000-seat capacity stadium for curling events, but that would require temporarily demolishing the Vancouver Public Library branch, gymnasium, fitness gym, and multi-purpose rooms. These community and recreational centre uses were built after 2010 at a cost of $12 million on the footprint of the stadium grandstands, with the ice rink retained.
The same can be said for Richmond Olympic Oval, which had a capacity for 7,600 spectators during the Olympics.
After 2010, the post-Games conversion cost $24 million, covering the expansive speed skating surface with six hardwood sport courts, a variety of rubber sport courts, indoor wall climbing, a 200-metre running track, and two Olympic-sized ice rinks. The upper mezzanine level overlooking the oval floor was once the foundation of a temporary grandstand for spectators and media, but it is now a 20,000-sq-ft fitness gym and a portion of the 15,000-sq-ft Richmond Olympic Experience museum.
Available statistics for Richmond Olympic Oval show it currently has over 6,000 members and saw over one million visitors last year, with the facility holding a variety of lessons, sports camps, regular events, and other programming.
The 400-metre looping speed skating track still exists beneath all the matting and courts, and so does the track’s refrigeration system, which is currently used by the oval’s pair of ice rinks.
But additional reinvestment may be required if deviations are found to the ice track, given that the building is constructed on the silt of the Fraser River delta. The International Skating Union, the international sporting federation that governs ice skating sports, maintains speed skating competition venues cannot have a deviation greater than three millimetres for every three metres of track, and 20 mm for the entire loop.
Temporarily repurposing Hillcrest Centre and Richmond Olympic Oval as Olympic competition venues could not only potentially cost tens of millions of dollars, but the upheaval of the current public uses for possibly up to three years — accounting for Olympic mode construction, a pre-Games period allowing for practice events such as a World Cup or World Championship, and post-Games reconversion construction — would displace the many users of the facilities.
A compelling case for some new sports venues in Surrey
A case could be made to build new sports venues for curling and long-track speed skating in Surrey, creating much-needed community and recreational facilities following the 2030 Games.
There is a dearth in such facilities in Surrey, and the current pace of new construction and renovated projects does not promise to keep up with the municipality’s accelerating population growth.
While the City of Surrey is currently focusing on an overhaul of its policing services to help address its crime problems, numerous international studies show sport facilities and associated programs can be a powerful tool for preventing crime, reducing drug and substance abuse, and addressing social issues.
The results are not immediate; when youth crime was an issue in Vancouver not so long ago, it took years for the results of similar initiatives to show results. Over the longer term, there is immense potential to use the power of sport to shift youth away from gangs and reduce delinquency, while also providing broader life skills.
Surrey could grasp on the opportunity of the 2030 Games to help fulfill key components of its 10-year, $357-million Parks, Recreation, and Culture (PRC) Strategy, approved by the previous city council in 2018.
New speed skating oval at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds
Components of the City of Surrey’s PRC strategy are currently up in the air due to funding obstacles, including the planned new $45-million Cloverdale Sport and Ice Complex with two ice rinks at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, which would replace the existing ageing ice rink in the area.
Following the Richmond Olympic Oval model, a new speed skating oval in Cloverdale could be turned into a post-Games facility with a wide range of uses, including two ice rinks, a fieldhouse, fitness and recreation facilities, and perhaps even flexible exhibition space for the fairgrounds.
This facility could grow into a community hub for Cloverdale, which is one of Surrey’s fastest growing neighbourhoods, with the population expected to rise from 82,000 in 2018 to 128,000 in 2046.
New ice rink for curling in Newton
For the new curling venue, it could be built in Newton to fulfill the municipal government’s plan of replacing the ageing Newton Ice Arena. A building configuration similar to Hillcrest Centre could allow the footprint of the grandstands to be converted into other community and recreational uses. This complex could be integrated with the existing Newton Recreation Centre.
Newton’s population is forecast to rise from 143,000 in 2018 to 182,000 in 2046. Such a new facility could also help revitalize the area.
Surrey’s school district is by far the largest school district in the province, with roughly 73,000 students. This is more than Vancouver’s 57,000 students, despite the region’s namesake city having a higher overall population.
There is a need for more youth amenities in Surrey, which will only see its youth population continue to grow with more families seeking Metro Vancouver’s outlying areas as their place of residence, where housing is more affordable. Surrey’s population is expected to increase from 568,000 in 2018 to 820,000 by 2046.
Privately-funded indoor stadium in Surrey City Centre
Additionally, Surrey could potentially see private investment for a new major sports and entertainment venue.
Within Surrey City Centre, a major local developer is in the early stages of its proposal to build an indoor stadium with a capacity of about 10,000 seats. It would be integrated with a significant mixed-use residential and commercial development.
If this redevelopment is realized in time for 2030, it would be a suitable facility for Olympic ice hockey’s secondary ice hockey venue, while the smaller UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre could instead host curling events.
A major role in the hosting responsibilities of the 2030 Games would align with the City of Surrey’s priorities of attracting economic development and international investment into its jurisdiction, while also fulfilling intents of its Parks, Recreation, and Culture Strategy.
Ultimately, there needs to be a regional conversation on the feasibility, site options, and interest on bidding for the 2030 Games; any decision on whether or not to proceed should not be grounded to just one municipality, Vancouver.
First Nations involvement in new Olympic Village
For 2030, new Olympic Village facilities accommodating over 5,000 athletes, coaches, and officials will need to be built.
These facilities were roughly equally divided in 2010 between Vancouver Olympic Village in Southeast False Creek and Whistler Olympic Village in Cheakamus Valley.
Another Whistler Olympic Village in the Cheakamus Valley
But the new second Whistler Olympic Village for 2030 — an expansion of the growing community in Whistler’s Cheakamus Valley — would likely have to be larger than 2010, accounting for the additional capacity required if freestyle skiing and snowboarding events are held at Whistler Blackcomb instead of Cypress Mountain. This also means the new Vancouver Olympic Village could be smaller than what was built for 2010.
After the Games, the new additional homes built in the Cheakamus Valley could be dedicated to much-needed affordable rental housing for Whistler’s hospitality workers.
Southeast False Creek or False Creek Flats
In Vancouver, a 2030 Olympic Village could potentially be configured within the large vacant city-owned gravel site on the Southeast False Creek waterfront, wedged between the Cambie Street Bridge and the 2010 Olympic Village.
As part of its Southeast False Creek neighbourhood plan, the City of Vancouver intends on turning this into a mixed-use neighbourhood with a large public park. This site was originally considered for the 2010 Olympic Village, but it was later shifted east due to concerns with traffic noise and security from the close proximity with the bridge.
Another option is to develop the new Olympic Village on the large parcel of city-owned land in the western edge of the False Creek Flats — in the general area east of Main Street, between Terminal Avenue and Industrial Avenue.
Either of these Southeast False Creek and False Creek Flats options with funding from all three levels of government could be converted into a mix of affordable market rental housing and social housing after 2030, which would have the potential of making a dent in the city’s affordable housing goals.
First Nations projects of the Jericho Lands or Heather Street Lands
Other options for the new Olympic Village that reduce the costs to taxpayers could include partnering with the developers of the 90-acre Jericho Lands in West Point Grey and the 21-acre Heather Street Lands on the Cambie Street Corridor.
Both neighbourhood-sized redevelopments are owned and spearheaded by three local First Nations — Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh — in partnership with federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company.
As these former government properties are not reserve lands and were obtained by market acquisition, they are bound by the City of Vancouver’s bylaws and review processes just like any other regular development project.
In exchange for temporarily using the first phase of either of the Jericho Lands or Heather Street Lands developments for the 2030 Olympic Village, the municipal government could provide the First Nations-led development consortium with a significant overall increase in market residential density to make this arrangement a worthwhile financial venture for them and advance the cause of meaningful reconciliation.
Using 2030 to realize new SkyTrain extensions
There continues to be great uncertainty over the timeline of extending SkyTrain’s Millennium Line to UBC, and the Expo Line from Fleetwood to Langley City Centre.
The continuous westward extension of the Millennium Line beyond Arbutus Street to UBC is expected to cost between $4.1 billion and $4.8 billion if it is completed by 2030, adjusted for inflation. The continuous eastward extension of the Expo Line from Fleetwood to Langley City Centre will cost $1.5 billion, if it is built by 2025.
Both of these extension projects are unfunded, but the prospect of the 2030 Games could be strategically used to attract the necessary funding from the federal and provincial governments in much the same way senior governments provided funding to accelerate the Canada Line, Sea-to-Sky Highway improvements, and the Vancouver Convention Centre expansion in time for the 2010 Games. All three of these projects were first envisioned in varying degrees in the 1990s, before the idea of bidding for 2010 emerged.
“In the early days when we were bidding for 2010, we did not put our hand up and say we needed a new convention centre, a new train to the airport, and a new airport. We were very focused on the Olympic side of this, but what always happens is a broader discussion takes place, the world is coming, and governments tend to come together and they rally around the immediate needs of the city. And this becomes the broadening focus of the Games,” Furlong told Daily Hive Urbanized in a previous interview.
“These are spectacularly successful physical infrastructure legacies, and I think you’d have to be a pretty harsh critic to say that they haven’t served a great community need and we’re proud of all of them. I can say absolutely that not a single time has someone stopped me in the street and said this was a bad idea.”
There is an immense need for the UBC SkyTrain extension to serve existing and future regional transit demand serving one of the region’s largest destinations and employers, while the Langley SkyTrain extension is critical for helping shape regional growth and linking employment hubs with more affordable housing.
2019 map of the Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley Centre. (TransLink)
Urgency is needed to complete these projects sooner than later as the region is in need of these green transportation options, and they are not getting any cheaper to build.
Delaying these SkyTrain projects any longer will only add to construction costs over time. With rapidly inflating costs for concrete, steel, and labour, the combined pricetag of these SkyTrain projects will likely escalate by hundreds of millions of dollars annually beyond the latest estimated figures.
Only these already-envisioned SkyTrain projects are theoretically feasible by 2030, given the level of technical planning work that has already been performed, especially for the full Langley SkyTrain extension.
Metro Vancouver’s second Olympics could potentially also help catalyze federal and provincial funding for TransLink’s plan to launch five additional RapidBus routes under the unfunded Phase Three of the Mayors’ Council Plan and the $447-million strategy to acquire up to 635 electric-battery buses to replace ageing 40-ft regular buses and 60-ft articulated buses that use combustion fuels.
This unfunded electric-battery bus fleet plan, which includes the associated charging infrastructure, will replace half of the public transit authority’s fleet with zero-emission buses by 2030.