Reused and new: What the Vancouver 2030 Olympics venue plan could look like

Feb 2 2022, 9:32 pm

There is no shortage of possibilities and scenarios for the master plan of a potential Vancouver 2030 Olympic Winter Games, according to those now tasked with exploring a potential bid.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is making investments to study the feasibility of the bid — what a repeat Olympic performance in Vancouver, Whistler, and potentially other areas of BC could look like.

The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) reforms post-2010 have greatly reduced the costs of formulating and submitting a bid, and have turned the bidding process into a two-way dialogue rather than merely a high-stakes international competition.

If a decision is made this year to formally send the pitch to the IOC, British Columbia’s presented strategy for 2030 will certainly make every effort to reuse and optimize the facilities built and used for Vancouver 2010.

And this is also an approach greatly encouraged by the IOC since it adopted in 2014 its “Olympic Agenda 2020” principles of encouraging prospective hosts to use sustainability as the driving principle. This not only means using existing facilities but allowing venues to be located further away than what was previously tolerated by the IOC.

Under the IOC’s new framework, here are some of the emerging ideas the COC has for the 2030 Games master plan, based on Daily Hive Urbanized’s interview in December with Tim Gayda, who is part of the local team currently working with the Four Host First Nations and COC on developing the technical aspects of a potential Games concept. Gayda held the key role of vice president of sport of VANOC and was the former president and CEO of Sport BC.

A more formal concept review will be conducted this spring, which will lead to the creation of a draft hosting plan.

A need for a new curling arena

Although the potential 2030 Games plan would rely on existing venues, some new construction could still be required — but it would be relatively minimal.

Hillcrest Centre, originally known as Vancouver Olympic Centre when it was built in 2009, is one of 2010’s greatest post-Games venue success.

The curling rink portion of the facility was designed for a post-Games transformation; the footprint used for 6,000 temporary seats was repurposed, turning the space into a multi-purpose recreation centre with eight sheets of curling ice, a hockey rink, a gymnasium, and a Vancouver Public Library branch. Along with the aquatic centre attached to the complex, Hillcrest Centre is now one of Vancouver’s most highly used community centres.

hillcrest vancouver olympic centre

Vancouver Olympic Centre during curling events for 2010. (VANOC)

“Curling is one of the easiest venues for the Games… It’s the same as a hockey rink. That is the least of our problems,” said Gayda.

“In terms of a master plan, we have almost too many possible options. We’re going down the path on the number of communities who have expressed interest in seeing what it would take to become a possible venue for the Olympics and Paralympics. Curling is the only indoor venue we cannot reuse.”

Such a facility would need between 3,000 and 5,000 spectator seats.

This could be achieved by building a new venue in a community in Metro Vancouver that is in need of a new recreational ice rink, realized after the post-Games conversion.

Reusing Richmond Olympic Oval

The Richmond Olympic Oval is another standout post-Games legacy of the new-build venue construction program of 2010.

But unlike Hillcrest Centre, there is the potential to reconvert the oval to its original glory of an international-competition-standard speed skating venue. The oval’s post-Games conversion fixtures to establish a multi-purpose recreational hub were designed in a way that allows the venue to be converted back to a speed skating oval.

“Everything you see there now… all of that can be removed,” said Gayda. “It was designed to do that, and it was the foresight that they may want to convert it into a speed skating oval down the road, not thinking that they’d be biding again but to maintain the venue capability.”

richmond olympic oval

Richmond Olympic Oval during Vancouver 2010. (IOC)

After the oval reached completion in late 2008, the public was provided with the opportunity to use the long continuous oval of ice recreationally for skating for about a year.

The post-Games conversion covered the oval ice sheet with sports courts in the centre, a running track and climbing wall on the eastern end, and two hockey rinks on the western end. A mezzanine running along the length of the facility, previously used as space for Olympic-mode grandstands, was turned into a fitness gym.

Altogether, the post-Games conversion for the wide range of recreational uses cost $23 million — on top of the venue’s $145 million construction cost.

This does not include $10 million for the Richmond Olympic Experience, which is a 10,000 sq ft museum on the 2010 Games and the Olympic movement, featuring interactive exhibits, artifacts, and sports simulators. The 2015-built museum occupies an area that was previously used for the 2010 Games’ anti-doping laboratory, which saw an initial post-Games use as an event and meeting space.

Richmond Olympic Oval

Interior of the Richmond Olympic Oval in its post-Games, multi-sport mode, with the speed skating ice surface removed. (Richmond Olympic Oval)

Reusing the venue through its reconversion, followed by a subsequent post-Games reconversion back into a recreational facility, would likely cost substantially less than building a new oval in another city.

But the tradeoff would be the possible downtime in the facility’s use by Richmond residents and the wider community, including elite athletes who use it as their training base, especially following the closure of Fortius Sport and Health in Burnaby.

Not only would there be downtime for the removal of the current fixtures to unveil the oval, but there could be an added contingency period in case there is a need to work out any unexpected kinks, given that the oval surface would have been dormant for nearly two decades by 2030.

And ideally, Olympic venues host a World Cup or World Championship as a test event within a two-year window prior to the Games, which is an ideal strategy to better prepare the local organizing committee for the logistical and operational needs during Games time. This could further add to the oval’s downtime.

richmond olympic oval

Richmond Olympic Oval during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. (VANOC)

Richmond Olympic Oval

Artistic rendering of the post-Games configuration of Richmond Olympic Oval. (Richmond Olympic Oval)

With a growing municipal population and the emergence of a new high-density residential neighbourhood surrounding the oval, the facility has seen growing usage over the past decade.

Total visitation has grown from about 450,000 visits in 2011 to 1.1 million visits in 2019, which saw 60,943 group fitness visitations, 53,655 high-performance training sessions, 1,876 learn-to-skate registrations, 2,735 summer camp registrations, and 35,572 visits to the museum.

“We’re in discussions about the conversion costs and the impact to the community,” said Gayda.

Hastings Park used as an “Olympic Park” in 2030

Hastings Park’s Pacific Coliseum, which opened in 1968, just a month before New York City’s Madison Square Garden, would certainly be reused for figure skating and short track speed skating.

Ahead of 2010, VANOC funded the replacement of critical building equipment, including the HVAC, ice refrigeration system, and ice surface dehumidification system, as well as new seating and washroom renovations. But the venue was otherwise largely unchanged.

“The upgrades that were done in 2010 were a pretty good step. It is a historic building, and if you recall during the Games, when you put on the Look of the Games (VANOC branded decorations), what you saw in the main bowl looked really good. People watching on television probably didn’t notice the age of the building,” said Gayda.

Pacific Coliseum during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. (Lisa Brideau/Flickr)

He suggested there could be some upgrades to Pacific Coliseum as part of the City of Vancouver’s long-established strategy of improving Hastings Park.

The municipal government is also providing the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) with a new amphitheatre at Hastings Park. This new covered outdoor venue will have grandstand seating for over 9,000 spectators, along with supporting facilities and spectator amenities.

Vancouver City Council approved the new $70-million PNE amphitheatre in June 2021, and construction is now targeted to begin in late 2024 for an opening in 2026.

Gayda says there is an emerging idea to take advantage of the new amphitheatre so that Hastings Park — accompanied by other activations on the site — could potentially serve as an Olympic Park during the 2030 Games.

The Olympic Park branding or reference is typically provided in the Summer Games context, where there is a main cluster of sports venues and other Games-related facilities surrounded by new open public spaces and parklands as a post-Games legacy. During the Games, the Olympic Park is a lively key destination for Olympic fanfare, entertainment, festivities, and exhibitions.

“We are in discussions with the City and PNE on trying to make the best use of Hastings Park, just because we don’t have a lot of that sort of park area in the city where we can bring a number of people and have more of an Olympic Park feel out there,” he said.

The new amphitheatre could potentially be considered as the venue for nightly medal ceremonies, along with concert performances and other entertainment, instead of rehashing the 2010 plan of hosting medal ceremonies at BC Place Stadium.

PNE Amphitheatre cultural spaces

Artistic rendering of the potential “best scenario” concept for a new PNE Amphitheatre. (PNE)

pne amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the potential concept for a new PNE Amphitheatre. (PNE)

PNE Amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the potential “best scenario” concept for a new PNE Amphitheatre. (PNE)

Finding another Cypress Mountain

Cypress Mountain was described as a problem child for 2010 organizers due to the unseasonably warm winter and the mountain’s relatively low elevation.

In the weeks leading up to the Games, snow had to be trucked and helicoptered to the venue, and eventually, even hay — topped with a layer of transported snow — was used to build the snow runs for the competitions in freestyle skiing and snowboarding.

In the middle of the Games, VANOC was also forced to cancel and refund tens of thousands of standing area tickets due to unsafe conditions from areas that resembled mud pits, instead of the originally envisioned snow-covered standing area.

With climate change’s effects becoming increasingly apparent, Cypress Mountain will likely not be recommended for a repeat Olympic performance in the feasibility analysis currently being conducted.

Cypress Mountain

The Olympic Plaza at Cypress Mountain. (Cypress Mountain)

Gayda says they are in the process of determining the potential feasibility of other ski facilities with a lower weather risk, but Whistler is unlikely to be a suitable replacement for other technical reasons.

During 2010, he says, Whistler was already operating at the edge of capacity with bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton at Whistler Sliding Centre at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, alpine skiing at Whistler Creekside, and biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, and ski jumping at the new Nordic cluster of Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley. For 2030, Whistler Olympic Park will repeat its 2010 uses.

Alpine skiing in 2010 had a relatively low Olympic mode capacity of 7,600 spectators due to the physical constraints of Whistler Creekside, but there was a 12,000-spectator capacity for Whistler Sliding Centre, and each of the three competition venues at Whistler Olympic Park had a capacity for 12,000. Combined, Whistler had a spectator capacity of about 56,000 during the 2010 Games.

Cypress Mountain had an 8,000-spectator capacity for its halfpipe and 12,000 for its other venue. Had these events been located in Whistler in 2010, the spectator capacity in the resort municipality would have increased by 36%.

“Adding more events up there gets prohibitive in terms of the capacity to bring people up there, the number of spectators, and the number of beds,” said Gayda.

Although the competitions are generally staggered across the 17-day duration of the Games, relocating freestyle skiing and snowboarding would add to the needs and size of Whistler’s Olympic Village accommodations for athletes, coaches, and officials, as well as add pressure to hotels and housing to sufficiently accommodate more media, workers, volunteers, security personnel, and spectators.

There are also major constraints with the Sea to Sky Highway’s capacity. Even with the pre-2010 capacity and safety upgrades, VANOC was only able to maintain the route’s reliability for Games operations and essential transportation by implementing usage restrictions. Throughout the Games, the only vehicles allowed on the highway were Olympic buses and vehicles, as well as eligible residents and businesses along the Sea to Sky Corridor with a permit. Anyone without a permit was turned away at checkpoints.

The ski jump at Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (IOC/YouTube screenshot)

Gayda adds that the initial 2010 bid plans envisioned hosting freestyle skiing and snowboarding in Whistler, but they were later relocated as it did not have the capacity to sustain those events.

Instead, the COC is now exploring a number of ski resorts in the BC interior that have the capacity to fit the freestyle skiing and snowboarding courses in. Major interior resorts like Sun Peaks near Kamloops and Big White near Kelowna — which both have amenities, accommodations, and infrastructure, and are supported by some of BC’s largest communities outside of the Lower Mainland — are about a five-hour drive from Vancouver in optimal road conditions.

But the distance is permissible under the IOC’s reforms allowing venues to be located within broader regions, maximizing the use of existing facilities. For instance, most of the skiing events for the Milan 2026 Winter Games will be held at the resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, which is about a five-hour drive from the city.

Hockey and practice rinks

Ice hockey would return to the 19,000-seat Rogers Arena and 7,500-seat UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

In order to use the privately owned venue for the period spanning from late January to early March 2010, VANOC provided about $4 million in rent, plus $18.5 million in facility improvements, including a new suspended centre scoreboard and new ribbon boards.

For the secondary ice hockey venue needed, VANOC covered about $37 million of the cost to build $48 million UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, with donations covering the remainder.

canada hockey place rogers arena gm place olympics

Rogers Arena turned into Canada Hockey Place during the 2010 Olympics. (Mike Wu/Flickr)


UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre during the 2010 Paralympics. (UBC)

VANOC also provided some funding for the combined $31 million construction of Trout Lake Centre and Killarney Centre ice rinks as practice venues for figure skating and short track speed skating athletes. Both facilities are highly used post-Games recreational legacies.

Later in 2022, the City of Burnaby will open the $50 million Rosemary Brown Arena in South Burnaby, which will feature two NHL-sized ice rinks. When asked whether this Burnaby facility could potentially be considered as the practice venue hub, Gayda said yes — assuming they aren’t too far from the main venues.

“We just don’t want to be too far from the competition venues because the athletes will stay there and [commute] to the training venue.”

Opening and closing ceremonies

Gayda highlighted there could be an opportunity to do the opening and closing Ceremonies differently than in 2010, which were held in BC Place Stadium.

“The IOC is very open to these ideas and looking at a new way that presents the Games as a creative idea that doesn’t need to be only in a big stadium,” he said.

The traditional single-stadium model of delivering the opening and closing ceremonies is challenged by the IOC’s emerging regional model of staging the Games, with athletes and officials spread out over further distances. This will be the case for Milan-Cortina for 2026.

Gayda suggests technology could be used to connect more regions to the ceremonies.

vancouver 2010 olympics opening ceremony first nations

First Nations welcome during the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. (International Olympic Committee)

For 2026, organizers are using an 80,000-seat football stadium in Milan, the largest in Italy, for the opening ceremony, while the closing ceremony will be held in another community two hours away within an ancient Roman amphitheatre built in 30 AD.

However, Paris 2024 is endeavouring to go completely out of the confines of a stadium for its opening ceremony. In late 2021, organizers announced the 2024 Games’ opening ceremony would instead be held on a six-km-long span of the iconic Seine River in central Paris, with the parade of athletes of over 200 nations accomplished by a flotilla of boats passing by the city’s most renowned landmarks and 600,000 free spectators lining the river.

Cultural displays and performances would be staged along the river, while temporary grandstands would be erected next to where the river passes the Eiffel Tower for the official protocol. The closing ceremony will also be held in the same general area near the Eiffel Tower, outside of a stadium.

paris 2024 olympics seine opening ceremony

Artistic rendering of the Opening Ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympics on the Seine River. (Paris 2024)

paris 2024 olympics seine opening ceremony

Artistic rendering of the Opening Ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympics on the Seine River. (Paris 2024)

paris 2024 olympics seine opening ceremony

Artistic rendering of the Opening Ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympics on the Seine River. (Paris 2024)

“It’s just a question of where do you do it, and the nice thing with the Paris concept is you still have the athletes in a confined manner in keeping some distance from the public, and that always seems to be a challenge with security,” said Gayda.

For Los Angeles 2028, both ceremonies will be held at two stadiums simultaneously — the new SoFi Stadium, which will host the 2022 NFL Superbowl, and the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hosted the ceremonies of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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