Once dismissed as an eyesore and a financial mishap, Olympic Stadium is suddenly a beloved venue for many in Montreal.
When the Montreal Expos left the city after the 2004 season, it seemed to mark something of an end for Olympic Stadium. Over its last years, the facility was routinely regarded as one of the worst in MLB and it received a reputation–in Montreal and beyond–for its structural and financial issues. Once expected to be an architectural and engineering breakthrough, the cable-support retractable roof and the tower it was suspended from never worked properly, and rising costs during the construction phase contributed to its nickname, “The Big Owe.”
Yet, the venue–which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal–has undergone some of a renaissance. Despite its lack of a major tenant, the venerable Olympic Stadium and the facilities surrounding it continue to host events on a year-round basis. Additionally, baseball has even made a comeback in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays annual exhibition series.
That has helped make Olympic Stadium viable again, not just in the eyes of Montreal residents, but for policymakers as well. More from City Lab:
With that legacy in mind, the 2011 report suggested that the park’s managers do more to promote youth athletics, and attempt to attract more tourists with restaurants and possibly a hotel. It also proposed reinstalling the retractable roof, at a cost of $200 million. It may sound curious to invest that much in a sports complex that hosts no sports team—but that’s a quarter of the current estimate for demolition. (According to a study, the stadium would have to be deconstructed in pieces, at a staggering cost of $800 million, because imploding it would blanket the city in a cloud of toxic dust.) And in that 2009 survey, 81 percent were in favor of a new roof of some kind.
The Quebec government is listening, to an extent. Last fall, it approved $166 million for further renovations to the stadium—about a quarter of which will go into turning the tower into an office space for the bank Desjardins, the park’s first-ever corporate tenant. (The tower, billed as the world’s tallest inclined structure, currently holds nothing but the observation deck, which will remain open to tourists.) According to Cédric Essiminy, a public relations representative for the Olympic Park, the presence of 1,300 Desjardins employees could attract more investment around the stadium’s struggling neighborhood. That could mean more support for the stadium’s revitalization—which is, in his eyes, a continuation of what’s always been quietly happening here.
“When you go on the internet, you see articles about what happened with some other Olympic installations, how they were abandoned, what they’ve become,” he says. “Here, you have something that never stopped being used. People are still coming here to benefit from it. People tend to not realize that when they compare it to stadiums in Athens, Sochi, Sarajevo.”
Given that so many old ballparks fall by the wayside, it is sort of refreshing to see one that finds another life after baseball. If Montreal continues to embrace Olympic Stadium as it is, it could be a destination for years to come, with or without baseball.