With the recent announcement that there are thousands of rips and tears all over the roof of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, I feel it’s time we finally said enough is enough and went permanently roofless at the Big O.
Everyone knows the stadium’s history as one of the worst boondoggles in the history of public management: A stadium that was supposed to cost $30-or-so million in the 1970s ended up costing over $2 billion by the time it was actually paid for just a few short years ago. There’s no sense in re-hashing all the bad things about the stadium – there are plenty of people doing that daily.
Rather, I think it’s time to focus on what makes the stadium good; on what makes it viable.
The roof is on fire, let the mother-Teflon burn
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of great features in or around the Big O. It’s a concrete wasteland that was so poorly conceived and built that pretty much nothing has ever worked properly, in particular the roof. It’s cavernous and has no personality when it’s empty, but when you get 40,000+ Montrealers packing it for a Grey Cup, an Alouettes playoff game or even the occasional Montreal Impact soccer game or international friendly, that place rocks.
Aside from being on the sidelines for several packed Als playoff games, my single best memory of Olympic Stadium was an Expos game on June 10, 1998. It was Tim Raines’ first game back in Montreal with another team and it was the first time the New York Yankees had visited. It was also the first summer in nearly a decade with no roof on the stadium, and it was glorious.
Of course, being June, the weather was great that day, but so what if it’s not? Especially since we’re not playing baseball there anymore…
Football is an all-weather-except-lightning sport, and soccer is played basically in any condition except for lightning and snow. Taking the roof off would probably no longer allow for winter soccer games, but the stadium is closed if it snows anyway for risk of the roof collapsing under the snow. So what difference does it make?
On the other hand, winter football is a lot of fun to watch. I’ve been to Grey Cups in freezing cold conditions (Winnipeg 2006 was the coldest), and it makes for special occasion: it makes people want to stick out the cold and support their team. What if the Als aren’t in the game? Well, first of all the Grey Cup sells out or gets close to sold out months before the game anyway, and second, there are always enough Roughrider fans to go around to fill the Big O come Grey Cup week.
What about trade shows?
Montreal simply does not need Olympic Stadium for trade shows. For starters, when there are shows there, most of them are held in a room called “Grandes Hauteurs” anyway, not on the stadium floor. On top of that, trade shows are what Place Bonaventure and the Palais des congres are for. Those shows should be held downtown for the most part, and when not downtown, there are plenty of hotels near Trudeau Airport.
So what’s next?
My guess, unfortunately, is that the RIO will make some sort of argument to put on yet another malfunctioning $30-40 million roof and we’ll be back to square one in a decade. If we’re lucky, however, maybe the Charbonneau Commission gets in the way or the next provincial government decides that enough is enough and the stadium goes open air.
Until then, those of us who remember the pre-roof and 1998 no-roof Big O can only hope for a return to the better part of the stadium’s past.