Montreal's main Olympic complex is seeing little usuage, but other facilities refurbished for the 1976 Games are being overrun.
Michel Guay, chief negotiator for the Olympic Installations Board, reported this week that more than 8,000 persons a week use the Claude Robillard Centre for swimming track and field, handball and volleyball; more than 12,000 regularly visit the Etienne Desmarteau Centre for hockey, skating and gymnastics, and more than 15,000 weekly use the rowing basin for skating and cross country skiing. While the U.S. remains sedentary, Canada is an athletic nation.
The Games never came close to Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau's 1970 dream of a self-financing Olympics budgeted for $310 million.Still, his claim, "We had no control over inflation and other problems that increased the cost" is without merit.
Gerry Snyder, organizing committee vice president in charge of revenue, insisted that "the budget was, very realistic at the time."
Snyder charged that the federal government's failure to pass enabling legislation when Montreal received the Games, instead delaying it for more than three years, was the crucial factor in the overrun.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] lievable, even to us," Synder said.
"But if the federal government had passed the legislation right after we got the Games in 1970 we would have avoided two years of spiraling inflation, the city would have been able to proceed immediately with construction contracts and there would have been more, lotteries with greater receipts.
"By the time the coin program started, the price of silver had risen from $1.90 an ounce to $4. That contributed to the decline in sales from the $250 million we estimated to $120 million. Still, we generated about $425 million in revenue, far more than we anticipated. I don't think we'd change very much if we were starting over. Starting sooner would be the big thing."
Snyder cited blackmail and sabotage by construction workers as another key factor in the escalating costs, but he said that "in spite of that, we all agree it was worthwhile. We were finally able to prove to the world that Canadians can do something of a large magnitude. We're only 22 million people, and the U.S. is almost too big for us. We proved that Canadian expertise with very little outside help could make a success of the Games."
"We created a brand new world," said Roger Rousseau, named a companion of the Order of Canada, his nation's highest award, for service as head of the organizing committee. "We now have an amateur world, with structures we didn't have before, recognition of amateur sport and a system of regional games to keep things going.
"There is a feeling that it cost a lot of money, and it did. Should it have. That's where it's difficult for the organizing committee to comment. What we want are installations that meet the requirements of the spots federations.
"Cojo had nothing to say about the stadium. They build it, we use it and they get it back. Self-financing would have been possible if we had stayed with a very normal stadium."
If Rousseau was hinting that less elaborate facilities would have been more desirable, Drapeau wasn't buying it.
"It is unanimous opinion that it is a great contribution," Drapeau said of his and architect Roger Taillebert's grand design. "Not one article in the U.S. or Canada has been written by sports writers showing rapport with any other existing stadiums. They are comparing it with antique monuments. It is becoming soon a very great tourist attraction. The mast will be one of the great towers of the world, a great money maker."
The football Alouettes will not dispute the stadium's potential. After playing their first four games in the rickety river front Autostade, to a total of 87,639 fans, they shifted to the Olympic Stadium and drew 68,505, 58,730, 55,337, and 61,950. This was with a team that finished third in the four-team Eastern Division. In 1974 the Alouettes' Gray Cup champions attracted only 140,721 for eight games; in 1975, the beaten Grey Cup finalists drew 198,129.
"In the Autostade we were always fighting the weather and we had no bus service," said general manager Bob Geary. "People thought football wasn't alive in this city. But with the metro, lots of parking spaces, a roof over their heads (only the playing field is presently open to the elements), a beautiful scoreboard and replays, it mushroomed to death, even though the team didn't play that great."
Geary reported that season tickets were "really taking off" and indicated there would be no trouble negotiating a contract with the Olympics Installation Board. Last year, the Alouettes paid 10 per cent of the gross after taxes, with a $17,500 minimum.
The baseball Expos have a valid lease on tiny Jarry Park, owned by the city of Montreal, for another two years. Accordingly, this week they began mailing season ticket renewals on the basis of an opening there in April. The move, however, seems no more than a weak pressure play, because the Expos need the Olympic Stadium as much as the OIB needs them.
With the hefty salaries of Dave Cash and Tony Perez added to the budget, the Expos would be courting disaster in Jarry, where they attracted fewer than 10,000 a game last season. The Olympic Stadium would add thousands on curiousity alone and, should the team be improved, the potential is unlimited.
"If we get an agreement in 15 days to three weeks, it will be possible to prepare the field," Olympics Installations Board president Clause Rouleau said. "We want to settle with the Expos first, before we decide what other attractions to book into the stadium."
Regardless, the revenues generated by stadium tenancy will not pay the Olympic deficit, roughly estimated at $900 million.
Holding OIB's newspaper ad seeking public input in his hand, Marcel Barthe, press secretary, for Claude Charren, government minister responsibile for the OIB, commented that "the Parti Quebecois wants it given back to the people. They will have to pay for it for the next 200 years. I'm not exaggerating at all."
Under the Liberal government, Quebee's cigarette tax was boosted three cents a pack and the fees for socialized medicine were raised, although administrators of that program claimed it was already self-supporting. Each increase apparently was aimed at attacking the Olympic debt.
The Olympic lottery has been extended until 1979 by the federal government as its contribution to Olympic solvency.
There is still debate over Montreal's responsibility. The Quebec government passed legislation just before Christmas forcing the city to assume responsibility for $200 million of the outstanding debt and authorizing the borrowing of that sum in the city's name, with the province acting as guarantor of the loans. A special Olympic tax had been assessed, designed to collect $21 million this year.
"I will never impose a tax for that," said Drapeau, but his opposition is immaterial, since the Quebec Municipal Commission is doing it for him.
Drapeau has been mayor of Montreal continuously since 1960 and his next encounter with the electorate is set for 1978. Although he has never been seriously challenged by an opposition party, there is speculation that this time the Montreal Citizens Movement can capitalize on the Olympic fiscal morass to drag Drapeau down.
The MCM has accused Drapeau of approving exorbitant cost-plus-profit construction contracts with political associates, as well as stopping social project and programs for the sake of the Olympics.
Drapeau denied the allegations and pointed out that "all the people wanted to have the Games. The people voted for it. In 1970 we got the Games in the spring and in the fall we got 95 per cent of the vote, with all 52 seats of council. We never did anything the people didn't want to have."
The Parti Queebecois, campaigning heavily on the issue of Olympic expenditure, won every provincial assembly seat in the French-speaking East End of Montreal, which indicates the people may be exercising a second guess.
Also, Drapeau was publicly humiliated when Charron formed his celebrated Advisory Committee on the Future of Olympic Installations. The city's executive committee was asked to name an impartial representative to the group, but it twice nominated Drapeau before the seat was given to Aime Desautels, director of planning for the Montreal Urban Community.
The Parti Quebecois is careful not to be shown as anti-Olympic.
"The Parti Quebecois was never against the Olympic Games, only against the luxury and richness of the Olympic Games," Barthe said. "The economic investment has stopped other social projects. Montreal is out of focus compared to other Canadian and American cities. It is way off from Toronto in social housing and services to old people."
Rousseau noted, however, that "we spend billions each year on curative medicine, very little on preventive medicine. Because of the interest in sports that accompanies the Games, health has been improved. Athletes rarely need treatment, except for broken bones. Athletes animate and motive people. The Olympic Games are directed toward the elite, but to get the elite you need mass movement. That movement has been created here."