Regardless of whether it’s built yet, the Games will come.
While Pan Am Games officials take to podiums and send press releases to declare that all 25 venues across the GTA will be ready on time — and under budget — the on-the-ground realities one year out from the opening ceremony are already starting to derail.
Just this week, new Minister of Sport Michael Coteau admitted the provincial government can’t guarantee the event will be on budget.
A massive $600-million construction project has been underway since the fall of 2012, involving 10 new complexes and several major retrofitting and upgrades to existing facilities.
However, completion of some buildings has lagged, holding up test events, while slow progress at a few smaller venues has had an impact on local businesses.
Construction delays have already marred what was to be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ big CFL homecoming at a new 22,500-seat stadium. Two games have been pushed to the nearby McMaster University campus with no official word on when the stadium will be ready.
The CFL game would have served as an important test event to work out any issues before the venue — which is hosting soccer — was cast into the international spotlight for the Games. These test events in and around Southern Ontario are benchmarks some venues could miss.
And the complexities of planning an international event this big have also left some kinks unresolved as the relationship with smaller venues across the GTA sours.
Organizers, meanwhile, say there is still plenty of time to put everything back on track.
“It’s absolutely fair to say we’re under budget,” said the Games’ CEO, Saad Rafi, calling it one of the most significant builds in amateur sports anywhere.
He contends the 25 facilities will be ready six to 11 months before the Games, slated for July 10-26, 2015.
Rafi said there is room to absorb increasing costs in the total budget from smaller projects — such as the BMX Centre at Centennial Park in Etobicoke, where costs have risen to $4.4 million.
“We haven’t even touched the contingency on some of these large projects,” Rafi said. “Budgets adjust. The matter is, can you afford it in the overall spend? And the answer to that is, so far, ‘yes.’ ”
Each venue’s construction contract has dates marked for substantial completion so test events can be held and volunteers can move in.
The date for Hamilton’s new soccer stadium has slipped from June 30 to early October — creating what organizers acknowledge is the most substantial setback so far.
The earlier date would have seen the stadium ready well ahead of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ home opener against the Ottawa Redblacks on July 26.
When it was clear progress was lagging, the City of Hamilton said the team would need a temporary occupancy permit just to play, but that the stadium would be ready for fans.
Just weeks out from the planned occupancy of Tim Hortons Field (formerly Ivor Wynne Stadium), there was no turf on the ground, no concessions or even finishings, according to Hamilton’s general manager of public works, Gerry Davis.
On July 7, the city announced both the home opener and a July 31 game would be moved because the stadium would “not be safe and ready for occupancy by then.”
The state of the facility appeared to be lagging more than anyone predicted.
Davis said the setback — which was caused by winter delays and a subcontractor in charge of masonry going bankrupt — was concerning. The city was hoping to welcome football fans home with some finesse. Now the city is on the hook to recoup any losses — estimated at $1 million per home game — incurred by the delays.
“There’s another hundred items on the list, I’m sure,” Davis told the Star last month. “We want it done.”
In an attempt to catch up, some communities are looking for new ways to meet deadlines.
Earlier this month, the City of Hamilton amended a bylaw to allow construction crews to work from 6 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week, to speed up the process.
The Hamilton stadium is not the only facility to experience delays.
The ice storm also set back construction on Milton’s velodrome by several weeks this winter, said Howard Chang, an avid cyclist and entrepreneur who helped organize an ambitious fundraising campaign that has raised $12.8 million.
But at a recent hard-hat tour, Chang said progress appears to be back on track — with a completion date now set for the end of September, before the site’s first test event in early October.
Also at stake in these builds are the surrounding communities — Chang aims to raise a total of $14 million in private investment to fund the $56-million velodrome site — with its 250-metre Siberian timber track. His team is trying to sell the public on their dream, soliciting donations online plank-by-plank and seat-by-seat.
“The facility looks amazing,” Chang said about the still-concrete bones and dirt floor. “It is going to be one of the finest velodromes in the world.”
Rod Jackson, who was the Progressive Conservatives’ Pan Am critic until he lost his seat as an MPP in last month’s provincial election, doesn’t buy organizers’ line that progress is proceeding as planned.
“I think it’s disingenuous for anyone at TO2015 or the secretariat to say that they’re on time and under budget,” Jackson said. “They’ve shown from the beginning that they aren’t.”
The numbers so far show some venues are being completed with less money than originally allotted.
So far, of 15 major builds, six are currently projected by the Games to come in under budget — totalling just over $56 million. However, one project, the velodrome, saw projected costs grow by $6 million after plans expanded to include other community elements like basketball courts and office space.
For some smaller venues — family-owned farms and sport resorts — preparations are also not progressing as planned.
A cross-country equestrian event is to be held at Will O’Wind Farms in Mono, Ont., just outside Caledon.
Geoff Morgan, who runs the farm with his wife, Ann, said the Town of Caledon dumped them from a collective-hosting bid after there was backlash because his property fell outside the town’s borders. Instead, Morgan entered into a no-consideration lease with the Games for use of his land, which already hosts major competitions.
The Games will build new jumps for the course — but the process has been slow, hindering the Morgans’ ability to carry on work at the farm.
“We’re basically lending the property to the Pan Am Games (for the almost two years) it takes them to build it,” Morgan said. “It’s put heavy restrictions on our use of our own property ... It’s been frustrating because of the lack of understanding of why these things are important.”
As for the larger venues — which required the majority of construction funds — federal and provincial government officials hope a $70-million legacy fund will keep three of those facilities afloat. The money is expected to last 20 years.
Jackson questioned whether the legacy money will last, saying he wasn’t convinced the proper accounting had been done.
“It just sounds to me like there’s no business plan for any of these legacy projects, which makes me really concerned,” he said. “You have to do more than hope.”
Coteau said he’s confident the venues will be well used.
“It’ll bring a next generation of amateur sports enthusiasts and athletes into the mix and provide them with the facilities necessary for success,” Coteau said.
As an example, he said the number of Olympic-sized pools in the region will more than double.
“It puts us into a position where we can compete.”
First, the athletes for these Games need a place to play.