“We don’t know yet whether they will accept the Sportsplex or whether they will tell us to use one of the alternatives. That’s part of the negotiation that will take place over the next couple of months to kind of look around.”
— Bid chair Jeff Cristall, in May 2012
“We knew the pool was a giant elephant from day one.”
— Bid chair Jeff Cristall, during a news conference at Brandon City Hall yesterday
The 2017 Canada Summer Games were Brandon’s to lose — and we lost them by the width of two Olympic-sized swimming lanes.
As you can read in today’s Sun, Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and Brandon bid committee chair Jeff Cristall officially broke the news to local media during a press conference at Brandon City Hall yesterday.
The official statement from the bid committee suggested that the provincial government will instead work with the City of Winnipeg and the adjacent capital region communities to host the 2017 Canada Summer Games.
This, in spite of the fact that the City of Winnipeg never submitted a bid.
And while the bid committee was obviously disappointed with the news, Cristall attempted to put a positive spin on the fact that Brandon only fell short in three venues — swimming (the Sportsplex only has six swim lanes, not the required eight), tennis and rowing.
“It’s not a bad news story. Obviously it’s not a great news story, but it’s not all a bad news story. We did pass the muster on virtually every other venue.”
There is no way to sugarcoat this, try as Cristall might — it is a huge disappointment for this city. There go the 3,500 estimated athletes who would have called Brandon home for the length of the Games. There go the thousands of visitors who would have spent their dollars in Brandon hotels and local businesses. And there goes any future upgrades that could have been made with the infrastructure dollars that come with any successful Games bid.
The Games would have provided $100 million in economic spinoffs, and also put Brandon on centre stage in Canada, through millions of hits on the Canada Games website, through webcasts and live streaming of events, as well as 80 hours of national television coverage.
And most importantly, proponents initially sold the Games bid as the saviour of the Sportsplex, with incoming government funds there to pay for the needed upgrades and the two extra lanes. But Decter Hirst said the city never made the request for those dollars, because the added cost “didn’t make sense.” As such, the loss of the Games becomes a major blow to Decter Hirst, who made saving the Sportsplex from certain closure one of her main election planks back in 2010, all for a chance to bid on the Games.
Members of the 2017 Summer Games bid committee worked for more than a year on the bid and spent roughly $250,000 on bid preparation, travelling to the Games in Halifax, and engineering and consulting reports.
But it was no secret that the Sportsplex venue was too small for the growing needs of the Canada Summer Games. That fact was the top concern raised by the technical review on Brandon’s bid last year. While swimming events during Brandon’s Canada Summer Games in 1997 were held in the six-lane Sportsplex pool, an eight-lane venue was preferred by the organization even then.
When asked whether Brandon’s bid was a waste of the city’s time and resources, Decter Hirst maintained that saving the Sportsplex was worth the effort, in that Brandon could still accommodate Swim Manitoba events and other national swim meets.
But that’s not really true — the accepted standard for any provincial, national and international championship swim event is an eight-lane pool.
So if the City and the bid committee knew from day one that the Sportsplex was a “giant elephant” as Cristall suggests, and if the prospect of using a temporary pool was slim — and we know it was — then we just spent $250,000 in taxpayer funds to confirm what we already knew.
After all is said and done, the decision came down to the fact that the city was either unable or unwilling to pony up the funds necessary to expand the number of swim lanes at the Sportsplex. That and Swim Canada didn’t like the other options it was presented — split the Games in half and move the swim competitions to Winnipeg or spend some capital to build a temporary outdoor eight-lane pool here in Brandon.
Sure, the city’s decision not to expand the pool saved Brandon taxpayers money. But the decision should have been made much earlier — plan to upgrade the Sportsplex to eight lanes or don’t make the bid. After all, the Canada Games are known for their legacy projects.
What we have left over from all this is an aging six-lane Sportsplex — though it will get new mechanical system upgrades through a 50-50 cost share with the province — ongoing maintenance costs to the facility that we can barely afford, and a scaled-down YMCA pool facility that will still be beautiful but considerably less than it could, and perhaps should, have been.
And what a poor legacy that will be.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 11, 2013