Quebec government to spend $870 million to replace Montreal’s Olympic Stadium roof

Quebec government to spend $870 million to replace Montreal's Olympic Stadium roof
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
An aerial view of Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Monday Feb. 5, 2024. The Quebec government announced the roof and support ring will be replaced at a cost of $870 million.

The Quebec government says it will spend $870 million to replace the decaying roof of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, warning that if nothing is done the sports complex will have to close permanently within two years.

Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said the current roof has more than 20,000 tears and is nearing the end of its life. The stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, has become an emblematic fixture of Montreal’s skyline, and shuttering it would be “unthinkable,” she said.

“This monument is one of the cornerstones of economic and tourist development for Quebec, and the east end of Montreal, and … it is being neglected,” Proulx told reporters in Montreal Monday.

Colloquially known as the “Big O” and sometimes the “Big Owe” — in reference to the spiralling costs of the 1976 Olympics and the ensuing debt, which was not fully paid back until 2006 — the stadium has been marred with roof problems for decades. The original design — which called for a retractable Kevalar roof suspended from an angled tower — wasn’t completed until 1987, more than a decade after the games, and was replaced with a non-retractable roof in 1998.

The stadium can only open between 120 and 180 days a year because of fears the roof could be damaged from snow and ice accumulation; events inside the building are cancelled if more than three centimetres of snow are expected to fall.

The new roof, Proulx said, will allow the stadium to stay open year-round and double the number of annual visitors to the tourist site.

“We estimate that the replacement of the roof will … almost triple gross revenue from $23 million to $61 million,” she said, adding that she expects the stadium will be able to host around 150 major events a year, up from around 30, including between two and four major concerts.

The new roof will take four years to build and is expected to last for 50 years, Proulx said.

For more than 20 years, the agency that manages the stadium — Parc Olympique — has been asking for its roof to be replaced. Its president, Michel Labrecque, said that this time, the contractors and his organization will get the roof right.

“We don’t have the option, for our fellow citizens, to make a third mistake,” Labrecque told reporters.

Proulx says demolishing the stadium would cost $2 billion and would be complicated by the fact the Montreal metro runs under the structure and because several businesses lease office space in the stadium’s tower.

The stadium has been closed since mid-December for exploratory work related to the upcoming renovations.

Montreal Mayor ValĂ©rie Plante said she’s satisfied with the announcement. The area around the stadium — which is home to a number of other attractions, including an indoor zoo, planetarium and nearby botanical gardens, all of which are run by the city — has become a major attraction, she told reporters in Montreal.

“You can love or hate the Olympic Stadium but it’s one of the symbols of Montreal,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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