Behind the Bench, Sports

Positive symbols are aplenty at Olympic Park

Last October, Premier François Legault expressed his desire to transform Montreal’s Olympic Stadium from a purported negative symbol stemming from its legacy of corruption and cost overruns into a positive symbol of Montreal’s future. While some already consider the stadium to be a positive symbol given its undeniable contribution to sporting and entertainment history, it has its detractors, myself among them. The announcement of a new roof and technical ring costing $870 million was a head-scratcher, for numerous reasons previously outlined. But the decision has been made. The contract for the roof replacement is already signed and the work will proceed whether I like it or not. And with that, I turn my attention to everything else going on in the area––one that is full of valuable and highly useful community assets.

While many consider the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium to be one and the same, the park and its partner organizations occupy a vast trapezoid in the Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough that includes more than just the stadium. The provincial entity known as Société de développement et de mise en valeur du Parc Olympique governs the stadium itself, the attached inclined tower, the sporting facilities at the base of the tower, and the outdoor esplanade. Also on site is the Biodôme, the Planétarium, a movie theatre that will soon be reduced in size making way for a hotel, a community centre, an arena, and Stade Saputo, home of CF Montréal

Much to the chagrin of its architect Roger Taillibert, the Velodrome built for the 1976 Olympic Games was transformed into the Biodôme in the 1990s. A trip to the Biodôme is undoubtedly time well spent, but Taillibert long insisted that we should kick the penguins to the curb and instead use the space for sporting events as intended. Taillibert passed away in 2019, but I wonder if he ever had the opportunity to tell the penguins how he truly felt about them. 

At the base of the world’s tallest inclined tower, you will find a world-class sporting facility, equipped with gymnasiums, Olympic pools, and diving boards. Elite athletes use the space for their training, but the space is also open to locals. If one of the long-term objectives of hosting the Olympics was to promote health and physical activity with the facility, we can say mission accomplished. 

The tower itself now holds 14 floors of office space and was vacant until 2018 when the Mouvement Desjardins and human resources software company SIGMA-RH rented the available space, making the tower fully occupied. The funicular is currently closed for renovations, but when it reopens the roof of the tower will be accessible to visitors for the first time in its history. On a visit to Olympic Park last November, I had the opportunity to visit one of the tower’s upper levels. The view of the city and surrounding areas from that vantage point is nothing short of breathtaking. I hope to be one of the first in line to take the trip up the funicular once it reopens. Unfortunately, a fire broke out at the base of the tower on March 21. It will remain closed for four to six months. In a testament to the value of these facilities, their temporary closure has proven challenging in the buildup to the 2024 Paris Games as Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic swimming trials were scheduled to take place at the sports complex in May.  

In all this, it would be impossible for me to write an article about the Olympic Park without mentioning the centrepiece itself—the stadium. That elliptical-shaped bowl, reminiscent of a space vessel from the world of science-fiction. The optimist in me still struggles to accept that there was no better option than to inject $870 million of public funds into the stadium to replace its roof. However, that decision has been made, and I am choosing to view the situation positively. I sincerely hope the roof replacement contributes to the rebirth of the stadium, giving Montrealers a sporting and entertainment facility worthy of our wonderful city—a community asset that, like the infrastructure surrounding it––is full of positive symbols.

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