St. John’s is more than willing to host the 2025 Canada Summer Games. Now, the city and province must prove they will be ready and able when it comes to the endeavour.
The official bid process for the Games was launched Tuesday at Confederation Building, although it’s been known for some time that St. John’s would be the presumptive host of the event. The city formally indicated its intention to bid last fall.
But those intentions go back even further.
In 2015, when the City of St. John’s revealed its new 10-year plan, the cost of possibly hosting the Games was listed as something to consider and suggested $30 million would be needed for infrastructure for the Games, a figure Mayor Danny Breen, who spoke at Tuesday’s event, said was still applicable.
At the time the city plan was revealed, the thinking was that would involve the 2021 Summer Games. That’s when Newfoundland and Labrador was scheduled to host according to the Canada Games rotation. However, later in 2015, the province announced it would not be prepared to do so, and switched places with Ontario, which had originally been set to host in 2o25. As a result, the Niagara region will be site of the next Canada Summer Games .
It remains to be seen if and how that delay might have helped St. John’s cause.
In 2014, in anticipation of Newfoundland and Labrador’s soon-to-arrive turn as Games host, a special task force, commissioned by the provincial government, issued a report entitled Medal Matters. That document reviewed the status of the sports system and athlete development in Newfoundland and Labrador, with an idea of improving the province’s performances in future Games, especially those held here.
That report nearly six years ago noted “high performance training facilities are lacking in the province,” and there has been little change since it was published.
The Mount Pearl Summit opened in 2014, but while its pool is relatively new, it is only 25 metres in length, not meeting the normal long-course standard for national swimming competitions.
That leaves the Aquarena in St. John’s, which has a 50-metre pool, but is 43 years old — it is the main remaining legacy facility from 1977, the last time Newfoundland hosted the Canada Summer Games.
St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen mentioned upgrades to the Aquarena in a post-announcement media scrum Tuesday, although it should be noted the pool has been operated by Memorial University for decades.
Breen also spoke of the need for a track and field venue, which is something completely lacking in St. John’s. Pearlgate in Mount Pearl is the main outdoor athletics facility in the metro area, but like the Summit, has notable drawbacks when it comes to the potential for staging high-level national events.
One is its elevation. The prevailing winds consistently affect times and distances either negatively or positively, meaning results often do not qualify when considering provincial or national records, or even personal-best performances.
Another is its dimensions. It is small and lacks a proper warm-up area.
What’s more, track and field facilities have been regularly used for Games opening and/or closing ceremonies, but again, Pearlgate’s size would make this impossible,
Last year, when the federal government announced it was providing $29 million for construction and upgrades in preparation for the 2o21 Niagara Region Games, much of the funding was directed to what is being called Canada Games Park, a multi-use facility which will be devoted to track and field, beach volleyball and an outdoor cycling pavilion.
By the way, if “Canada Games Park” seems familiar, especially to those who were around 43 years ago, that’s what the track and field stadium for the 1977 Summer Games in St. John’s was called. However, that facility, which was adjacent to the Aquarena, has since been turned into a parking lot.
A new rowing centre will also be built for the Niagara Games, with money also being spent on upgrading baseball, softball, rugby and soccer fields and for the diving venue at Brock University.
Premier Dwight Ball, who spoke at Tuesday’s event, suggested the 2025 Games in St. John’s would cost between $45 and $50 million to stage, but added “the economic benefit that comes from just the Games” would be twice that, taking into account the 20,000 visitors who will either be participants or spectators at the country’s largest sporting event.
The premier also spoke of the tourism potential that could come with having those people here and of the increased ability to attract future national and international sporting events because of legacy facilities.
Ball said the provincial contribution would be around $10 or $11 million dollars, with other funding and/or support expected to come from partners in the private sector, community groups and the municipal level.
It was made clear Tuesday while it is St. John’s making the bid, the entire metro area will play a role in the Games; the mayors of Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South and Torbay were all in attendance at the announcement.
And while St. John’s is the lone bidder, Lynn Blouin, who will chair the Canada Games Council’s bid evaluation committee, said high standards still must be met in order for the Games to awarded.
The bid process involves two phases. The first will see the compilation and submission of technical review information with regard to plans for facilities, an athletes village and non-sports venues.
The due date on that is May 29 of this year and if that submission passes muster, the local bid committee will then be tasked with meeting the requirements of the second phase, which involves development of marketing and communication strategies and nailing down a budget by Dec. 1 of this year.
Once that is done, the entire St. John’s proposal will be reviewed and scored by Blouin’s evaluation committee, which will then make its recommendation to the Canada Games Council’s board of directors.
The final decision will be announced in February of next year.
Kim Keating, the chief operating officer of the Cahill Group, and Karl Smith, the retired chief financial officer of Fortis, are co-chairs of the local bid committee.
Just-retired Newfoundland basketball star Carl English, who first came to national prominence at the 1997 Canada Games in Brandon, Man., and who was in attendance at the Confederation Building Tuesday, will also be on the committee, with other members to be confirmed in the near future.