Transformation of Olympic Oval
One zone will contain two Olympic-size ice rinks that can accommodate
both hockey ... each contributed $55 million to create the 2010 Games
Operating Trust , .... But you have to look at your own demographics —
A mere 18 months after hosting some of
the 2008 Summer Olympics' greatest moments, the splashiest facility of
those Games — Beijing's National Stadium, a.k.a. the Bird's Nest — was
assuming a decidedly wintery feel. By Dec. 19, artificial snow machines
had produced a reported 3.7 square miles of one-and-a-half-foot-deep
white fluff to transform the stadium into a winter wonderland, complete
with a ski slope and an artificial ice rink. The "Happy Snow and Ice
Season" program may prove to be good fun, but it's also being widely
regarded as a rather desperate attempt to generate a steady revenue
stream from the facility, something that has been increasingly hard to
come by since Beijing's Olympic torch was extinguished.
CITIC, the company that owned a controlling stake in National Stadium
until the Beijing municipal government assumed operational control in
August, netted approximately $38 million in revenue after the
conclusion of the 2008 Games, 70 percent of which came from tourism,
according to China Daily reports last month. But daily facility tours
are now down from 50,000 per day to fewer than 10,000, and multiple
professional sports franchises that were speculated to become anchor
tenants of the 80,000-seat stadium have since flown the coop.
Such tribulations are not lost on those in charge of post-Games
operations of the facilities that will be showcased in next month's
Winter Olympiad, Vancouver 2010. "We've visited a number of venues in
Olympic cities, primarily in Lillehammer, Turino, Salt Lake City and
Calgary," says Ted Townsend, senior manager of corporate communications
for the city of Richmond, B.C., owner and operator of what is arguably
this Olympiad's most ostentatious venue, the Richmond Oval. "The
warning we heard time and time again from the people who were involved
in building and operating these Olympic venues was, 'Don't make the
same mistake we made,' which essentially was to build a venue for the
Olympics and then worry about its legacy use afterward. There are too
many examples of facilities that have become white elephants, if not
outright mothballs, after the Games."
Heeding that warning, the city of Richmond set forth to create a
facility that not only represents the state of the art for its Olympic
sport (the oval is being touted as the fastest long-track speed skating
venue in the world), but also one that can be converted to accommodate
a variety of uses that will allow it to remain financially viable for
years, even decades, after the Games' closing ceremonies. "We took that
advice to heart," says Townsend. "When we made the decision to go
forward with a bid for the oval, we planned for a facility that would
meet our long-term community needs. It just so happened that the
facility had to also have the capacity to hold speed-skating
competitions for the Olympic Games."
Townsend says the 512,000-square-foot facility with seating for 8,000
spectators is approximately one-third larger than what studies
determined would be needed to comfortably host long-track Olympic speed
skating, but that the larger footprint was required for the oval to
serve its post-Games purpose. In fact, Richmond Oval may be a misnomer
once the games have concluded and the massive conversion occurs. The
space currently occupied by the 400-meter ice track will essentially be
divided into three more-permanent zones, although Townsend notes that
the facility can always be reconverted to allow for long-track training
One zone will contain two Olympic-size ice rinks that can accommodate
both hockey and short-track speed skating. "We're in discussions with
the national federations of both those sports about having a
relationship to use those ice surfaces for training and competition on
an ongoing basis," notes Townsend. The second zone will expand the
current wood-surfaced interior of the ice track to achieve the
equivalent of eight full-size basketball courts. Says Townsend, "Of
course, we can use that area for volleyball, racquet sports, a lot of
the wheelchair sports or pretty much any indoor summer Olympic sport
you can think of." The third zone will contain a 200-meter running
track with a multipurpose infield. "All of those zones are fairly
flexible in the sense that the surfaces we will use can be removed or
converted," Townsend says. "We can mix and match the zones to host just
about any indoor sporting event, for training or competition purposes."
Permanent amenities housed adjacent to the three-zone main activity
level include a comprehensive fitness center, a sports medicine and
sciences suite, office space for a regional high-performance- athlete
development firm, an indoor rowing tank and numerous multiactivity
spaces for recreational use. "This is meant to be a full-service
facility for high-performance athletes and major competitions,"
explains Townsend. "But at the same time, the sheer size and
flexibility make it perfect for community use." Refer to
Rendering of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games Richmond Oval
The massive conversion of
the Olympic Speed skating oval will complement, rather than
with, existing Olympic facilities elsewhere in Canada.
High-performance sports and
development had better be part of the post-Games plan — that is, if
Richmond wants some financial assistance in operating the facility.
Following a financing model that has helped venues in other Winter
Olympics cities maintain post-Games viability, the province of British
Columbia and the Canadian federal government each contributed $55
million to create the 2010 Games Operating Trust, which will benefit
what are considered the Games' primary legacy facilities — the Richmond
Oval, the Whistler (B.C.) Olympic Park, the Whistler Sliding Centre and
the Whistler Athletes Centre. Forty percent of the overall fund is
earmarked for the oval, another 40 percent for the Whistler facilities,
and the remaining 20 percent for contingencies, such as major
Owners and operators of the legacy facilities — respectively, the City
of Richmond and Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies, a nonprofit entity with
representation from numerous other nonprofit and government agencies
associated with the Games — can each receive up to 5 percent of their
portion of the fund's value annually for operational purposes, with the
following condition: the facilities must maintain a dedication to
Olympic sports training and development.
At the oval, at least, that condition dictated some creative
programmatic planning. "In our research, we did see some models where
there were tensions between community use and high-performance sport
use," says Townsend. "But we have discovered some models where it can
work well." Townsend likens the oval's post-Games configuration to the
kinds of expansive multipurpose recreation and athletics centers that
can be found at certain colleges and universities in the United States.
"We think one of the great things about our facility is that we'll be
able to have world-class athletes training there, and they may be right
beside youth or other up-and-coming athletes who may be inspired by
The trust's sports-development clause also challenges operators of
these facilities in that development of world-class athletes is hardly
a profitable venture. "Our mandate is to own and operate these venues
with a focus on sports development, but also with a focus on the bottom
line," says Paul Shore, marketing and business development manager for
Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies, acknowledging that those two objectives
aren't exactly complementary. "There is an onus on us to develop other
business elements that are going to generate income that will help
supplement the financial needs of these venues."
Thus, to deepen the revenue streams at the three Whistler facilities,
the organization is devoting a fair share of its energy to developing
tourism programs. At the Whistler Sliding Centre — which includes an
operations building, a multipurpose lodge and a nearly 1,500-meter
track for all the Games' bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions —
post-Games plans call for tourist rides, either on a bobsled behind an
experienced pilot or solo on a skeleton, from starting points low on
the track. "Sport doesn't generate much revenue for these facilities,
but tourism can — especially at a bobsled track," says Shore, adding
that the Centre's tourism plan is in part modeled after those in place
at some of the world's most renowned sliding tracks, including Lake
Placid, N.Y.; Park City, Utah; and St. Moritz, Switzerland (which,
constructed in 1903, remains a legend among Winter Olympics legacy
"We think being in Whistler has set us up incredibly well to do what
those three tracks are doing, or better, as far as tourism," says
Shore. "We expect to draw a lot of corporate events here, too, because
we have some very nice meeting spaces. The events could include
sliding, or organizations could just be looking for a creative venue to
hold team-building exercises."
After another of Whistler's legacy venues, the Olympic/Paralympic Park,
plays host next month to cross-country skiing, biathlon, Nordic
combined and ski jump events, it will likewise be promoted not only as
an elite-level training venue, but also as an attraction for more
casual skiers, corporate clients and tourists of all kinds. "We're
working with a local tourism group to try to stimulate business," says
Shore, adding that post-Games products will include such programs as
the "Biathlon Experience," in which tourists will be allowed to
navigate a Biathlon course and use live firearms to shoot at targets.
"We're also working with partners to develop some innovative programs
to try to attract a lot of corporate team-building in the summer. The
park is so spacious and has so many kilometers of trails and roads,
it's uniquely set up for athletic team-building events."
Photo of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games Richmond Oval
Through the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Richmond Oval will
serve only as the
world's premier speed skating venue.
At the Whistler Athletes
composed of a high-performance training facility surrounded by lodge
and townhome accommodations that will serve as an athletes' village
during the Games — post-Games revenue will come less from tourism and
more from visiting athletes and additional corporate entities. As part
of the long-term vision for the Centre, a 5,000-square-foot gymnastics
hall was built into the early designs and will be operated by a local
gymnastics club. A regional athlete-development agency will operate a
human performance testing lab and a recovery and regeneration facility.
By offering food service as well as flexible lease arrangements,
Whistler Sports Legacies 2010 hopes to attract athletes of all levels
who may be interested in any of the nearby athletics facilities for
Whether these efforts will actually pay off enough for these legacy
facilities to stay in the black remains to be seen. Making long-term
financial prognostications even more difficult is the economic wave
that will crest when the Games themselves take place next month. "In a
pre-Olympics year, the cost of running any of these venues is much
higher than it will be after the Games," says Shore. "That makes it
difficult to finalize your estimates. You don't operate in post-Games
mode anything like the way you operate in pre-Games mode."
However, Shore acknowledges the need to capitalize on the ripples
created by the Olympic Movement. "There is a draw from the actual
Olympic Games," he says. "The curiosity will fall off over the years,
but a venue does have those years to establish its own personality to
counteract that effect. There are facilities that have done such a good
job developing their tourism products that by the time that Olympic
buzz wears off, they are so well known for what they do that it's hard
to pinpoint any falloff."
Townsend remains confident that the extensive post-Games planning for
the Richmond Oval will benefit not only the city, but the community,
the greater Vancouver region and even the Canadian sports world for
years to come. "A long-track skating facility is very difficult to
operate," says Townsend, adding that Calgary, host of the 1988 Winter
Games, remains the national training center for long-track skating. "If
we had made the decision to go into competition with Calgary after the
Games, we would have ended up cutting each others' throats. That's part
of the reason that we made the decision early on to go with a
multipurpose facility. Not only could it support our community better,
but it was an economic decision."
In what would seem to be a highly competitive world marketplace for
state-of-the-art Olympic training facilities, Townsend says he has been
overwhelmed by a spirit of collegiality. "Within the Olympic Movement,
everywhere we went when we were doing our best-practices research, we
were welcomed with open arms," he says. "People were happy to share
with us their successes and also their challenges. We've had a number
of visits from people from Sochi and London, and we've done our best to
impart any information we may have to them."
Granted, the arms that were opened widest most likely belonged to
Townsend's Canadian brethren. "I don't see competition," he says.
"Certainly within Canada, there's an effort to build a national model
for sport development, and there's a recognition that we all need to
contribute to that and create an overall network of sustainable
facilities and programs that will allow us to excel in sport. We're not
individually trying to own it all."
Shore likewise says the futures of this Games' legacy facilities have
been made more promising thanks to the expertise of the scores of
people with experience operating the venues of Games past. But he adds
that a firm foothold in a global marketplace for high-performance
sports is never guaranteed. "It's going to be a challenge," he says.
"You can study Calgary, you can study St. Moritz, and you can study
Park City. But you have to look at your own demographics — geography,
populations, tourism potential. No two venues are ever the same."
The Richmond Oval served as the world's
premier speed skating venue at Olympics. The
state-of-the-art facility has since turned into a
public recreation facility, equipped with multiple skating rinks, ball
courts and a first-class fitness center.
Sports and community groups in Richmond have united in their efforts to
develop a framework to help residents become more active.
Richmond Sports for Life Strategy is being
through a working group comprised of city staff, Richmond Sports
Council, Richmond Arena Community Association, Richmond Oval
Corporation, Richmond School District, Richmond Community Association
and Richmond Aquatic Services.
LEAF Richmond Oval. Massive conversion will complement,
rather than compete with, existing Olympic facilities elsewhere in
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