We did it. We got the Pan Am Games.[rssbreak]
Folks like former Lib premier David Peterson have sold the win as a gift-wrapped guarantee to improve Toronto, theoretically, at little cost to municipal coffers.
But by the time opening ceremonies hit the Rogers Centre in 2015, Pan Am could be a white elephant saddling taxpayers (we still pay the province, people) with cost overruns, an unnecessary sports venue and regrets - kind of like the SkyDome-turned-Rogers-Centre itself.
Hey, wasn't Peterson behind that, too?
Here's what to stay focused on as preparations for the Games begin:
Proponents of the Games say the need for a $1-billion Pan Am athletes' village is an opportunity to finally convert the 80-acre West Don Lands wasteland into an utopian, affordable, transit-friendly zone.
Nice idea, but what's it going to take to get there?
Keep your eye on what percentage of that development will go to housing for those of modest income. Right now the plan calls only for "mixed" housing.
Helen Lenskyj, U of T professor emerita and author of Olympic Industry Resistance, says her experience tells her that T.O. can expect "a legacy of broken promises on the affordable housing front."
Michael Walker, the only councillor to vote against putting cash toward the Games, complains that the village will only turn into housing via a circuitous and expensive route.
Turns out money-sucking retrofits are going to be necessary after the Games to transform those units - some of them tailor-made for massage therapists and sports doctors - into permanent homes.
"If the money's available, I'd like to build affordable housing now," Walker says, not wait for five years and then have yet another bill due.
Are the Vancouver Winter Olympics foretelling our future? The athletes' village there was originally estimated at $950 million. That figure's ballooned to $1.2 billion, and it ain't over yet.
City bid point person Councillor Adrian Heaps says the city's home free in case of overruns, which in nice for the city, but provincial money is still our money.
MOVES AGAINST THE MARGINALIZED
Be attentive to subtle changes. Lenskyj, who's been observing Big Sport gentrification for many years, suggests we watch for bylaw changes, new policing policies and owners of low-income housing turning their digs into two-star hotels.
It's already been rumoured that Games planners will move on from Vancouver to Toronto's Pan Am. VANOC's troubles could, therefore, soon become HOSTCO's, Toronto's soon-to-be-minted organizing committee.
Will our city follow other host metropolises and try to hide its ugly side? Cue the Vancouver reg mandating that homeless people be removed from "security zones" or face arrest if they don't comply.
"That's certainly not in our bid book," assures Heaps of a homeless roundup suggestion. Then imagine thousands of mall-cop goons wandering the city itching for a citizen's arrest, and you've got yourself some worries.
FACILITIES WE CAN'T USE
Supporters of the Games like to say that, post-Games, the city will inherit a world-class aquatics centre on the U of T Scarborough campus. Sure, our tax dollars are going to pay for all but 22 per cent of the estimated $170 million project, but can we dive in?
Mayor David Miller, in particular, argues that the facility will benefit a disadvantaged area. We're all for equity, but how much access will U of T allow to non-students?
Lenskyj fears that the aquatics centre could end up like the Athletic Centre at the downtown campus. There, outsiders have to purchase a membership ($73 per month) or use the centre for limited community swims.
Facilities built for these sports blowouts, she says, "aren't necessarily what the community needs or wants."
WILL THEY COME?
Getting the games is predicated on the influx of mega tourist dollars. But there's no guarantee the spectacle will have the cachet to bring in the masses. Toss in visa restrictions, an unknown economic climate, weird viruses and athletes passing on the event (or sending in the B-team) and the risk rises.
Lenskyj suggests Toronto doesn't realize how limited its appeal is as a tourist destination. "If Montreal, New York or Chicago got the Pan Am Games, there would be more incentive to visit. Those cities have reputations."
Heaps is less stressed, calling Pan Am "manageable."
"It forces an agenda on projects that have been sitting around," he says, acknowledging that sometimes a spectacle's political ego-stroking becomes an agent for irreversible good.
So if everything falls into place the way Heaps and other pro-Pan Ammers figure, maybe Toronto could come out a winner like Winnipeg after its 1999 Games. With luck and a ton of scrutiny, there's still a chance.3