Plans to upgrade the luge and bobsleigh track at Calgary’s famed WinSport facility have been shelved due to a funding shortfall and will result in the track closing in March, according to a letter sent to WinSport employees Tuesday.
“I want to inform you that we have made the difficult decision to stop the track renovation project,” said WinSport president and CEO Barry Heck. “The sliding track at WinSport was built for the 1988 Olympics. It’s more than 30 years old and at the end of its life cycle.”
Heck said the track needs a completely new refrigeration system and that money provided by the two levels of government will not cover all the expenses associated with the renovation.
“The province and the federal government have provided a total of just under $17 million to the project, but we are $8 million short for the necessary work, and the end of the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic bid means those funds are not immediately forthcoming,” he said.
Heck said that to continue with the project would put WinSport’s future at risk so “it was prudent for us to hit the pause button.”
WATCH: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responds to the announcement that WinSport plans to close its sliding track after the upcoming season.
The track will be shut down at the end of the season on March 3 following the 2019 IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup and two other scheduled events. After that, the refrigeration system will be decommissioned, Heck said.
“As a result, the operation of the track during the 2019-20 winter season will be impacted and possibly will not operate next season,” he said.
Heck pointed to the failed 2026 Winter Olympic bid — and the funding that would have come from hosting the event — as events that have forced WinSport “to evaluate how to sustainably serve our athletes and community for the next 30 years.”
Heck said discussions are underway with the provincial and federal governments and that “we are working hard to find a solution.”
WinSport will continue to operate the Ice House and the summer bobsleigh attraction, Heck said.
The senior manager of communications at WinSport confirmed the details in the letter to Global News on Tuesday.
“We didn’t make this decision lightly,” Dale Oviatt said. “That’s why we are rallying together and saying we need some help.”
The announcement drew immediate reaction from the athletes that use the facility.
WATCH: Chris Le Bihan from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton responds to WinSport’s announcement that they will be closing the sliding track after this season.
Bobsleigh Skeleton/Luge Canada called the suspension of the upgrade project “very disappointing.”
“This decision to close the track will have a significant negative impact on the future of our sports,” the organization said in an email to Global News on Tuesday. “This should be of greater concern to the broader sport community, and the City of Calgary at large.”
The organization said the facility is a powerful Olympic legacy in Calgary and has played a key role in developing Olympic medallists for Canada.
“The track also provides countless unique corporate team building, education, tourism and recreational opportunities for all to enjoy annually,” Bobsleigh Skeleton/Luge Canada said. “This is now all at risk.”
Mike Davidson, the vice-president of marketing of the Calgary Luge Club, said the track is “highly responsible” for the development of luge and bobsleigh athletes in Canada.
“We’re very fortunate we have this facility here in Calgary, that it’s in the city and it’s so easily accessible to everyone,” he said.
Should the track close permanently, the only way to develop luge athletes in Calgary would be to send them to the Whistler track, a legacy of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“I would ask WinSport to really, really seriously consider how they are moving forward with this, and to take into consideration the development of the athletes and how they are going to address that,” Davidson said.
The provincial government “committed the full $10-million ask for the sliding track project” in its 2016 budget, according to a statement from Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s minister of culture and tourism. He added that the province is disappointed with WinSport’ss decision.
“We are more than willing to continue to work with WinSport and have expressed a willingness to alter the funding agreement to help with its needs,” the statement read.