Plympic Stadium – Canada, North America
The Olympic Stadium (French: Stade olympique) is a multi-purpose stadium in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal, Quebec, Canada built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The stadium is nicknamed “The Big O”, a reference to both its name and to the doughnut-shape of the permanent component of the stadium’s roof; “The Big Owe” has been used to reference the astronomical cost of the stadium and the 1976 Olympics as a whole.
The stadium is the largest by seating capacity in Canada. After the Olympics, it became the home of Montreal’s professional baseball and Canadian football teams. Since 2004, when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C., the stadium has no main tenant, and with a history of financial and structural problems, is largely seen as a white elephant. It currently serves as a 56,040-seat multipurpose facility for special events (e.g. concerts, trade shows), and continues to serve as a 66,308-seat venue for playoff and Grey Cup games hosted by the Montreal Alouettes. The Montreal Impact also use the stadium on occasion when a larger capacity venue is needed or when the weather restricts outdoor play in the spring months.
The Tower of Montreal (French: La tour de Montréal), the tower incorporated into the base of the stadium, is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175 metres (574 ft).
The stadium was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert to be a very elaborate facility featuring a retractable roof, which was to be opened and closed by a huge 175-metre (574 ft) tower – the tallest inclined structure in the world, and the sixth tallest building in Montreal.
The Olympic swimming pool is located under this tower. An Olympic velodrome (since converted to the Montreal Biodome, an indoor nature museum) was situated at the base of the tower in a building similar in design to the swimming pool. The building was built as the main stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium was host to various events including the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, football finals, and the team jumping equestrian events.
The building’s design is cited as a masterpiece of Organic Modern architecture. Taillibert based the building on plant and animal forms, aiming to include vertebral structures with sinewy or tentacles, while still following the basic plans of Modern architecture.
As construction was well underway, a labour strike caused a major delay to the building of the stadium and, in particular, the tower. The roof languished in a warehouse in France until 1982. It was not until 1987, 11 years later, that both the tower and roof were completed. Problems plagued the stadium from the time it opened for the Olympic Games, when it was only half built.
Seating 58,500 at the time, the stadium was not fully completed in time for the Games due to problems with the unusual design and strikes by construction workers. During the Games and for several years afterward, the stadium did not have a tower or roof. Both the tower and the roof, made of over 5,500 m2 (59,000 sq ft) of Kevlar, stood unfinished until 1987, and it was not until 1988 that it was possible to retract the roof. The 66-tonne roof then proved difficult to retract, and could not be used at all in winds greater than 40 km/h (25 mph). During baseball season, whenever rain was accompanied by high winds, this resulted in the unusual phenomenon of a rain delay in a covered stadium. It was also torn during particularly windy conditions.
When construction on the stadium’s tower resumed after the 1976 Olympics, a multi-story observatory was added to the plan, accessible via a funicular that travels 266 metres along the curved tower’s spine. The funicular cabin ascends from base of the tower to upper deck in less than 2 minutes at a rate of 2.8 metres/s, with space for 76 persons per trip and a capacity of 500 persons per hour. The cabin is designed to remain level throughout its trip, while providing a panaromic view to its passengers.
The observatory’s main window faces south-west, offering a view of downtown Montreal and overlooking the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium’s suspended roof.
Despite initial projections in 1970 that the stadium would cost only C$134 million to construct, strikes and construction delays served to escalate these costs. By the time the stadium opened (in an unfinished form), the total costs had risen to C$264 million.
The Quebec government introduced a special tobacco tax in May 1976 to help recoup its investment. By 2006, the amount contributed to the Olympic Installations Board accounted for 8% of the tax revenue earned from cigarette sales. The 1976 special tobacco tax act stipulated that once the stadium was paid off, ownership of the facility would be returned to the City of Montreal.
In mid-November 2006 the stadium’s costs were finally paid in full. The total expenditure (including repairs, renovations, construction, interest, and inflation) amounted to C$1.61 billion, making it the second most expensive stadium ever built (after Wembley Stadium in London). Despite initial plans to complete payment in October 2006, an indoor smoking ban introduced in May 2006 curtailed the revenue gathered by the tobacco tax. Perceived by many to be a white elephant, the stadium has also been dubbed The Big Owe, Uh-O or The Big Mistake.
The stadium has generated on average $20 million in revenue each year since 1977. It is estimated that a large-scale event such as the Grey Cup can generate as much as $50 million in revenue.