Montreal to spend $250m on new roof for stadium hardly anyone plays in, because “patrimoine”

Quebec Tourism Minister Julie Boulet says the province will spend $250 million on a new roof for Olympic Stadium because … dear lord, why?

Radio-Canada reported in May the roof tore 677 times over the last year and 7,453 times over the past 10 years.

Okay, yes, that’s a problem, as is the fact that the stadium can’t currently be used when there’s more than two inches of snow on the roof, which is basically “winter” in Montreal. But Olympic Stadium was a perfectly functional stadium for a decade before the roof was built, and since right now the place is mostly used for the occasional Impact or Alouettes playoff game, for that kind of cash you could just buy 60,000 parkas and hand them out to fans for each game.

Stadium chief Michel Labrecque told CBC that tearing down the stadium doesn’t make sense because “It’s part of what we call the patrimoine. My father, your father, paid for it, built it. So it’s impossible, foolish to think about dismantling it.” (Someone please direct Labrecque to read this explanation of sunk costs, or the French equivalent.) Then he said it would cost between $500 million and $700 million to demolish it, which seems a little excessive, and suggested that the stadium has to be maintained in good shape so that it can keep hosting exhibition series with the Toronto Blue Jays each spring so that MLB will give Montreal a new team, not that it would play at Olympic Stadium or anything, but just, you know, as a showcase.

I have been to Olympic Stadium a couple of times, and have an admitted soft spot for the place, but this is just madness. If you want to impress MLB, better to save the $250 million to put toward an actual baseball stadium eventually. Or, since repairing the old roof only costs $1 million a year, take $50 million of that, put it in a savings account, and pay for roof maintenance with the interest, while saving the other $200 million for anything else.

This just goes to show that the “stadiums are economic engines” meme has sunk into elected officials’ consciousness so much that they’ll even spend public money on them when there’s no team owner shaking them down for funds. I’m going to have to keep running this website forever, aren’t I?

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11 comments on “Montreal to spend $250m on new roof for stadium hardly anyone plays in, because “patrimoine”

  1. If its possible to turn the Maple Leaf Gardens into a supermarket/college hockey rink I’m kind of curious if at this point Montreal should see if its possible to gut & redo Olympic Stadium for modern MLB.

    …obvious questions of “Who and how do pay for such a thing?” aside.

  2. At $250 million, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just tear down the stadium and start over? The new stadium wouldn’t have the fancy bells and whistles, but it would get the job done.

    1. No. The stadium is so bizarrely constructed that tearing it down would be an exercise in supporting the roof while taking out the individual supports that hold it up as a balance.

      An implosion would probably unleash an amount of asbestos and carcinogens to rival the WTC collapse on 9/11.

      I agree with Neil re: sunk costs, but as someone who’s been in it a few times, tearing it down is a conceptual nightmare.

  3. Imploding a stadium built more or less on top of a major metro station (amongst other things) is not an option.

    The construction plan was based on the ‘futurist’ concept of a fully interconnected city and underground system. The downside of this thinking should be obvious these days… Montreal has to keep funnelling money into a stadium they have no legitimate use for just because they cannot tear it down economically.

    I’ve been there a couple of times too, and I don’t doubt the dismantling (which, as Ty says above, is what it would be) cost estimates presented.

    Some years ago (1997-98 I think) an engineering firm proposed a retractable metal roof for the facility at an estimated cost of $100m. The OIB ultimately decided to just replace the then current roof with a new fixed one.

    Like most gigantic facilities, there are relatively few legitimate uses for this one year round. The Als will never move back in full time and the Impact have their own (heavily publicly funded) facility adjacent to Olympic stadium. Grey Cups are held there every few years and, if a working roof could be constructed, various trade shows etc would also pay to use the stadium. However, it’s very hard to see any way the facility can come close to breaking even on operations let alone generating positive cash flow to cover capital expenditures.

  4. As a part time resident of Montréal, I can tell you that site is in the middle of the dense and rapidly improving Hochelaga- Maisonneuve neighborhood and blocks away from a major commercial corridor. The site also is across from the botanical gardens and surrounded by repurposed Olympic arenas. Lastly, as one commenter already noted, it sits on top of one metro stop and a short walk from another. Le stade Olympique is one of the most iconic images of the city and visitors love to see it. Long story short — this is a complicated and emotional issue, moreso than the typical stadium story. I watched the US Women’s national soccer team defeat Germany in the world cup semifinals there a couple of years ago — that stadium is otherwise not falling down.

    1. I was at that match! Had a great time, and would have had just as great a time with no roof.

      If anything, Montreal might think about putting some money into redoing the area immediately surrounding the stadium, which had a bit of a Logan’s Run futuristic wasteland feel to it.

    2. Absolutely true, Mark.

      When it was built it was “waaay out there”. The city has grown around it and it is no longer a remote facility (even during transit strikes…)

      I’m in favour of them improving it and making it an “all season” facility (which, despite the roof, it is not at present). I don’t believe they can ever get it close to break even on operations, but given it’s demolition costs it is worth trying to cut the operating losses.

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