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Naheed Nenshi ‘bit of a skeptic’ about Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid

Click to play video 'Former CPS Chief Rick Hanson to chair Calgary Olympic exploratory committee' Former CPS Chief Rick Hanson to chair Calgary Olympic exploratory committee
WATCH ABOVE: There are some familiar names in charge of exploring a possible Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Here’s Carolyn Kury de Castillo with more.

Former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson will chair a new committee set to explore the possibility of a 2026 Olympic bid.

Members of the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games Calgary Bid Exploration Committee were unveiled by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi at a noon news conference on Monday.

The committee of volunteers will be responsible for analyzing the capital and operating costs for hosting the games, the level of investment required from the three orders of government, and determining how to maximize use of existing facilities. Once the committee presents its findings to city council, council will make a decision as to whether or not to proceed with a bid.

READ MORE: Calgary formally announces exploration of 2026 Winter Olympics bid

Hanson he’s committed to finding “good quality information” to make a decision that will benefit Calgarians.

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“The preliminary surveys said 60 per cent of the people were very supportive and excited about it,” Hanson said. “But that means there’s 40 per cent less excited and I think a lot of that has got to do with: can we do it? What are the costs of doing it? What are the challenges? And best of all, what are the outcomes of this that are going to benefit the people of Calgary?”

“We want see if a uniquely-Calgary Games is possible: a model that is focused on building community and supporting athletes while also being very cost effective.”

READ MORE: ‘Calgary has the opportunity to lead the trend’: a cost-conscious look at a 2026 Olympic bid

“At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks the world is becoming a safer place, and we have to have a really hard look at what security looks like and what it’s going to cost,” Hanson said.

Should city council decide not to proceed with the bid, the City of Calgary said the findings will provide a “comprehensive understanding of current city infrastructure and needs.”

Nenshi a ‘bit of a skeptic’

Nenshi said part of what he learned by attending this year’s Rio Olympics is that in the current climate, building “a ton of infrastructure” can count against cities, whereas in the past “shiny new infrastructure” would have been considered favourable.

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“As I say over and over again, [a bid] has to be based on evidence and I remain–though an Olympic fan–a bit of a skeptic on whether this thing really works,” Nenshi said. "The numbers have to be bulletproof."

The committee will provide an interim report to city council and Calgarians in January 2017 and a final report by July 2017. Calgary must indicate to the International Olympic Committee their intent to bid for 2026 by September, 2017. The winning bid will be announced in 2019.

How to maximize Calgary’s 1988 Olympic venues

Hanson leads 17 volunteers tasked with analyzing costs, along with brainstorming how to maximize the existing 1988 Olympic venues in the city.

In its pitch to council, the Calgary Sport Tourism Authority offered up a price tag of $5.3 billion to host the 2026 Winter Games, which would be less than the $7.7 billion of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

Olympic athletes Catriona Le May Doan and Beckie Scott are on the committee, as is former member of Parliament Wilton Littlechild. A representative of Calgary Sport and Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Flames and CFL’s Stampeders, is not on the committee, although the daughter of Flames co-owner Clayton Riddell is on it.

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Sue Riddell Rose was appointed because of her expertise in the oil and gas industry, Nenshi said.

The Flames want a new arena and football stadium whether Calgary bids for a Winter Games or not. But the proposed CalgaryNext project–which includes those components and a field house– is inevitably linked to a potential Olympic bid.

READ MORE: Majority of Calgarians surveyed disapprove of CalgaryNEXT arena funding proposal, says poll 

The city and the Flames disagree on the bill of CalgaryNext. The city says it’s $1.8 billion when the price of cleaning up polluted land on the proposed site is included.

Flames president Ken King has said that’s overshooting by half a billion. The Flames have offered $200 million of their money to the project as well as a $250-million loan to be repaid through a ticket surcharge.

READ MORE: Flames ownership examining ‘Plan B’ for CalgaryNEXT

“There isn’t anybody on the bid exploration committee who is directly tied to any particular potential facility,” Nenshi said. “That’s very much on purpose.

“We have to create a master hosting plan that may or may not include different facilities. To have someone pitching for their facility on that committee doesn’t really make sense.”

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Calgary’s maintenance of its 1988 legacy venues and proximity to mountains keeps the city in conversations about future Winter Games bids.

Doping, corruption scandals, huge security costs and the bloated price tag of the 2014 Sochi Games reported to be over $50 billion have dampened appetites to bid for Olympic Games.

Watch below: June 27 – Gord Gillies takes a ‘big picture’ look at the CalgaryNEXT project

Click to play video 'The bigger picture: CalgaryNEXT' The bigger picture: CalgaryNEXT
The bigger picture: CalgaryNEXT

The IOC adopted a series of reforms called Agenda 2020 to attract host cities. The new “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy is friendly to a Calgary bid.

Agenda 2020 is undergoing its first test as Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles are finalists for the 2024 Summer Games. The host city will be announced next year.

More information about the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee can be found at Calgary.ca/Calgary2026.

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With files from Global’s Carolyn Kury de Castillo and Donna Spencer with The Canadian Press