Montreal’s new tourism minister wants to spend $250m on a new Olympic Stadium roof, just like old tourism minister

What do you get for a stadium that’s already had one retractable roof replaced by a non-retractable roof when the original retractable roof failed to retract? How about a new (possibly retractable) roof!

“It’s time we gave prestige and standing back to the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium,” [Québec Tourism Minister Caroline] Proulx told reporters at a news conference. “For too long it has been not loved or under-loved by Quebecers.”…

“We will be working on replacing the roof, it is mandatory to change the roof,” Proulx said. “We will change the roof. The business plan will be tabled in the next few months.”

This is not the first we’ve heard of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium getting a new roof — a year and a half ago, the previous tourism minister floated spending about $250 million on one, which at the time I called “just madness.” There are certainly times when stadiums need repairs — for Olympic Stadium, this has historically been “pretty much always” — but spending $250 million on a new roof, retractable or otherwise, is a hella expensive way to provide “standing and prestige,” especially when past roofs have only resulted in scandal and ridicule.

Even if you don’t want to tear down the stadium — which is currently getting $17 million a year in provincial subsidies, according to the Montreal Gazette, though it didn’t specify if these are just operating subsidies or include paying off the cost of past roofs and such — maybe it’s time to consider whether it wouldn’t be a better investment just to take the roof off entirely and leave the stadium open-air, as it was for the first decade of its existence. Sure, then it couldn’t be used for all of the 200 events a year it’s supposedly currently used for — actual number a whole lot less than that, unless guided tours of the stadium count as “events” — but are a handful of extra wintertime concerts or whatever, or even a shot at hosting some 2026 World Cup games (which, you know, take place in the summer when it’s quite pleasant outside in Montreal) really going to be worth $250 million in expense? I guess that’s not the sort of thing you ask when you’re the tourism minister and your job is promoting tourism at all cost and not figuring out how to pay for it, but one hopes that the rest of Québec’s legislators will give this proposal at least a bit more sideeye.

17 comments on “Montreal’s new tourism minister wants to spend $250m on a new Olympic Stadium roof, just like old tourism minister

  1. In order to have the facts right, I strongly suggest that you read the last Annual Report.

    – 208 days of occupation (not events) means all days that generated revenues (renting the stadium before and after the event to prepare the event).

    – The existing roof is at the end of its life. It must be changed like any other roofs that are at the end of their life.

    – Open air stadium all year is a challenge because the stadium was not built to face winter (cold temperature the can break pipes with water, …). More investment will be required to make it open air without heating the stadium during the winter.

    – The existing roof was paid a long time ago. The stadium and the Olympic park were paid a long time ago. This asset (the Olympic Park, not only the stadium) is a huge complex with thousands of people working on site every day. In the tower, more than 1200 employees of Desjardins (a bank) are working in their offices. Ongoing investments are required to maintain the asset.

    – Total revenues were $62.5M in 2017-18.

    – Tearing down the stadium is not an option considering the cost/complexity (there are a Metro line under the park/stadium and 2 stations next to it) and the fact that the stadium is used quite often for events.

    – Focussing on the stadium and the roof is not acknowledging that the whole Park is a major site in Montreal where the Montreal Impact is playing in their own stadium next to it, where the Planetarium, the Biodome, the Insectarium, the Olympic Pool are major sites.

    With all the studies made over the last 5-7 years on the roof replacement project, it’s time to move on and get the best technology that will suit the Stadium needs and potential.

    • The existing roof was installed in 1998. If Montreal is planning on replacing the stadium roof every 21 years, that seems like a problem at this price point.

      As for water pipes and all the rest, that’s all well and good, but I’m still having a hard time seeing how it’s worth $250 million to avoid wrangling with those problems. Is Desjardins really going to move out of the stadium tower if there are no longer as many soccer matches taking place next door? That seems dubious.

      (The other option, of course, would be a cheaper roof. Though I guess if you start with the premise that you need the “best technology,” you end up with a $250 million roof.)

      • Neil, the existing roof (Birdair) costed $37M in 1996. But that roof was suppose to last 10-15 years max.

        Regarding the next roof, we will need to see what the suppliers will propose in term of technology and life duration. The amount is budgeted at this time is between $200M and $250M. Will see what will be proposed.

        Desjardins just moved 1200 of they employees to the tower in brand new offices and there are no plan to relocate them, it’s a long term contract to use those offices spaces.

        • I haven’t done the math, but in present value terms it’s almost certainly cheaper to spend $37m every 15 years than to spend $200m once and be done with it. Especially since I can’t imagine that Olympic Stadium is still going to be in operation for more than one or two more 15-year cycles.

        • Anybody know how the $200-$250 million figure was arrived at? Are there only two price points for a roof like this? $37 million for 15 years or $200+ million for a longer lifespan? It seems nuts that the $50 million guesstimate range in the new estimate is more than the current roof cost. (Because you absolutely KNOW if the estimate is $200-$250 million that the actual cost is going to be right at or over $250 million. When is the last time you heard a deal like this where it came in at the low end?)

          • So far, all roofs technology used were not safe during winter when there is snow, lots of snow.

            The goal is to have a roof that could be removed/disassemble during summer if some major events requires open air stadium like the World Cup.

            We’ll see what will be the roof proposals but at least, the budget process is based on exhaustive studies and reflect a realistic cost (in CAD, of course). In USD, the estimated cost is $148M to $185M (exchange rate at $1.35).

  2. As one who’s lived in northern Vermont and traveled many times over the years to see the Expos, may I be the first to say regarding the new roof, Bwahahahaha!!! (sounds the same in French).

  3. The Alouettes play their games outside and the vast majority of MLB play in open air stadiums. What’s the new roof for? To host the National Fivepin bowling championships? As a major league spring training site? An indoor water park? As Spock would say, “Not only illogical, but loonie!”

  4. It seems hosting some world cup games would be a good reason to de-roof the stadium, at least for that summer. Then do the new roof later. But lets never again speak of a retractable roof.

  5. This is great news. It will take the total cost of the facility, including interest, roof and structural repairs, over the $2Bn mark (when the original construction bonds/loans were finally retired at the end of 2006 – some 30 years after the stadium was built – it’s then current cost to date was $1.47Bn).

    The present roof has been a disaster since day one. As I recall at least one contractor ended up bankrupt over it. Given the fabric roof’s tendency to tear and it’s inability to handle any significant snow build up (for many years the stadium main floor was off limits for use if there either was a build of more than 3″ of snow or the forecast called for 3″ of snow or more…)

    Sometime in the last 90’s (I believe) a plan was put forward to install a $100m cantilevering steel roof… but this went nowhere.

    The sad thing about this facility is that it is so integrated into the metro system that it really can’t be demolished… the gift that keeps on taking from Montreal and Quebec taxpayers.

    Kind of like Cleveland’s arena or Cincinnati’s football stadium… except they have actual tenants…

    • So far, total cost you are talking about is for the Olympic Park. We are talking about the Pyramids (apartments), Velodrome (now Biodôme), Olympic Pool, thermal station that provide heating for the whole complex, underground parking, Olympic Stadium tower.

      • Your statement is not correct. The “original” construction cost of the stadium itself (tower and bowl) was $770m, thanks in large part to horrific cost over runs, ineffective construction management, and (frankly) organized crime. The master architect (Taillbert) was turfed in 1974. Some estimates have placed the total cost of the stadium and tower on opening day in 1976 (and in unfinished form of course, as the tower was not complete and the roof material was still sitting in a warehouse in France) at $1.6Bn when adjusted for inflation (2014).

        By the time the stadium debt itself was retired in 2006, including interest and other carrying costs, the total for the stadium is generally accepted to have been $1.47Bn.

        This did not include the athletes village or any of the other items you suggested. Please stick to facts.

        • Apologies… the $1.6Bn referenced in paragraph 1 was a typo… it should have read $1.1Bn.

          I have also found a couple of sources that indicate the total revenue generated annually from events at Olympic Stadium averages C$20m. I understand this includes the revenue from commercial space in the tower (which does not, of course, require a roof on the stadium bowl to be realized).

          • Again John, the real numbers are:

            1. Total investments (in 2017) for the Olympic Park since 1974 are $1.7B CAD. In 2017, such investments over time represent a total of $5.2B (all investments in actual 2017 dollars).


            2. Not having a roof means that the new Electronic board as well as many other infrastructures must be protected against cold and winter every year. The stadium interior is not ready to support cold and snow and without a roof, there will be annual cost that are way higher than the actual costs during winter with a roof.

            3. The decision to invest in a roof was based on multiple studies (Opportunity Cost approach) that look at all scenarios (stadium without a roof, no stadium, …). In fact, the law that force the RIO to limit its power to negotiate long term deal (more than 2-3 years) with concessions, partners, … will be revised/updated so the RIO will have a different status and have all the negotiation tools to maximize the revenues or let the partners manage the risks of some investments.

            Over time, the stadium (and the whole Park) will be modernized using partners investments (concessions and restaurants, telecom company, …) and will probably generate more revenues that what we saw over the last decade.

            You can listen to Michel Labrecque (President) interview earlier this week (in french).


        • I’ve read the number from the OIB, I know what they include and exclude.

          You appear to want to ignore the horrendous annual operating losses (the former OIB positively celebrated when they managed to get to “50% recovery”, even though many observers doubted they were actually there…), the costs to repair building failures (and there have been many), the cost of storing the original roof in a warehouse in Marseille for nearly 7 years… et al.

          It adds up (unless you just ignore it, of course).

  6. To paraphrase Jean Drupeau, a roof on Olympic Stadium can no more lose money than a man can have a baby.

    • Yes, and when you ignore the annual operating costs and repairs from what most people would term “structural failure”, it’s quite easy to make the facility look like less of a money pit than it actually is.