How Metallica playing Montreal’s Olympic Stadium reignites debate about venue’s relevance

Click to play video: 'Worth all the trouble? Montreal’s Olympic Stadium at the centre of a weekend of festivities'
Worth all the trouble? Montreal’s Olympic Stadium at the centre of a weekend of festivities
WATCH: Pardon the pun, but they don’t call it the Big "Owe" for nothing. The price tag for the Olympic Stadium’s new roof is going up once again. But as Global's Gloria Henriquez reports, fans of Metallica are proving it can be a vital venue – Aug 11, 2023

Metallica is playing two massive shows at the Olympic Stadium this weekend, once again reigniting questions about the venue’s relevance in Montreal.

The stadium, which is a fixture in the city’s skyline, can host up to 56,000 people. Friday and Sunday evening will see tens of thousands of fans descend on the iconic site that has been riddled with roof issues for years, and with that, the ongoing debate as to whether taxpayers’ money should go toward its repair.

“The capacity of the site is necessary for a city like Montreal,” Dinu Bumbaru from Heritage Montreal told Global News. “So it’s not like a decoration. It’s very functional for the city, as well as a landmark.”

But that landmark needs over $250 million in repairs. Back in 2017, then-premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government approved the budget of that amount for its renovations — a project that was set to be finished by 2022.

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That contract has since been cancelled. Engineers found that not only did the domed roof need major repairs, but the ring around the roof needs to be replaced too, so the cost of the work is expected to balloon.

The place hasn’t had a main tenant or sports team since the Expos almost 20 years ago. In the last decades it has hosted a wide variety of events, from sporting competitions to concerts to car shows, but the buzz around it has always been about its structural and financial issues.

According to the Montreal Olympic Park’s annual report, taxpayers fund it to the tune of almost $20 million a year — in 2022 it cost $19,8 million. The venue brought in $21,3 million in revenue that year, making it marginally profitable.

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The retractable roof has experienced numerous rips and leaks since it was built in the 80s. In 1991 support beams snapped and a 55-ton concrete slab fell onto an exterior part of the venue, injuring no one.

The roof has been under constant safety supervision since, and the price tag of its repair has stalled it from getting done — as well as the question of whether the venue is even useful to Montreal.

The city’s NHL and CFL teams call other venues home, so there is no local sports team looking for real estate. Most large concerts play at the Bell Centre, which music experts have long said provides better sound than the Olympic Stadium does.

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Economist Moshe Lander told Global News he believes the cost of maintaining it isn’t worth it, considering what it provides.

“You can’t say that Metallica came to town, therefore it’s justified to keep it going for another 250 million dollars, right?” he said. “Knock it down and put in social housing.”

But like Heritage Montreal, others think the iconic site located in the city’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district is worth investing in.

American tourist Jerry Ho told Global from outside the location on Friday that he remembers getting a snow globe of the stadium when he was young, and that now he had come to see the architecture of the place for himself. “I didn’t get to (ever) see it. And now I’m here, I’m going to be inside.”

As for Metallica fans, they told Global News they were thrilled to see the band play there.

“I would say Metallica has probably won the Olympics of metal, so how fitting,” said Jacob Dayfox from North Bay, Ontario.

The multi-purpose stadium was constructed under Mayor Jean Drapeau’s tenure in the mid-1970s to host the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic games. It currently stands as the second biggest venue in the country after Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, which only holds about 300 people more.

The organization managing the Olympic Stadium is set to submit its new repairs project for the Quebec government to review and approve this fall.

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The minister responsible for the stadium, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx, says she is waiting for that step to be complete before she issues any comment.

— with files from Gloria Henriquez, Global News

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