SLIDING TRACK IN TROUBLE
Without more funding to complete what it’s calling a necessary upgrade, WinSport will close its sliding track in March and may not reopen it for the foreseeable future.The track, used for bobsled, skeleton and luge, is scheduled to close for the season on March 3. The facility had plans to start renovations immediately once the season ended, but in a letter to employees, Barry Heck, WinSport president and CEO, said the project has been halted.“The province and the federal government have provided a total of just under $17 million to the project, but we are $8 million short for the necessary work, and the end of the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic bid means those funds are not immediately forthcoming,” Heck wrote.WinSport spokesman Dale Oviatt said the track is 33 years old and at the end of its life cycle. Under the existing refrigeration system, the facility can’t operate the track any further, he said.“It’s not just about the $8 million to do the track, but going forward and to ensure that we’re here for another 30 years,” Oviatt said.“We don’t know what the plan is going forward. Right now it’s too early to say ... Obviously, if we don’t get any money to do that renovation, we can’t operate the track next year.”He said the choice of Calgarians to abandon a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics in the November plebiscite meant critical funds to complete the project are now nowhere to be found.“The end of that bid really was damaging to our future,” said Oviatt. “We really needed that money to help alleviate the costs of our aging infrastructure.”Mayor Naheed Nenshi echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.“When we made the decision, as Calgarians, in November not to pursue 2026, it did mean that we had to look for different sources of funding,” Nenshi said.“I think it’s important for us to point out to our friends at the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada that really making sure these legacy facilities continue to operate, that they continue to be jewels for Calgary and for high-performance amateur athletes across the country, is an important priority.”Oviatt said WinSport has begun talks with Ottawa and Alberta on additional investment in upgrades.Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s minister of culture and tourism, said the province is open to re-examining its grant commitment of $10 million for a track upgrade, which was allocated in its 2016 budget.“We are more than willing to continue to work with WinSport and have expressed a willingness to alter the funding agreement to help with its needs,” Miranda said in a statement. “We are disappointed that WinSport has stopped construction of the project, which will have a significant impact on luge, bobsleigh and skeleton athletes.”In a letter to Heck dated Feb. 2, Miranda urged WinSport to reconsider its decision to close the track as it searches for additional funding.“We were surprised to learn late last week of your plans to halt construction on the redevelopment of WinSport’s sliding track and to de-commission the track until the decision to proceed on the project is revisited and other priorities are considered,” Miranda wrote.“In the spirit of co-operation, I am hoping that you could work with my officials on a plan to keep the current sliding track open for the time being as we work through your challenges and develop a long-term solution.”The federal government announced it would add $6.8 million toward the project last year.“We are very disappointed to learn that WinSport, in spite of this contribution, has decided, on its own, to shutter the luge and bobsleigh runs,” said Daniele Medlej, a spokeswoman for federal Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan, in a statement."We remain very hopeful a local solution can be found to keep the track open.”For Olympian Seyi Smith, who competed for Canada in bobsled at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, WinSport’s decision is “disappointing but it isn’t surprising.”“I moved here for sports,” said Smith, who also competed as a sprinter at the 2012 London Summer Games.“You have kids who are born in the community who benefit from it, you have athletes who move here like me, and there are many of us, because of this facility. You have foreign athletes who come here for training camps. They spend money in hotels, they spend money in the food, they spend money in WinSport, all providing to our economy. It makes us a stop for world events.”Smith said he understands that many Calgarians may not use the sliding track and thus don’t see the value of their tax dollars paying for upgrades.“But what kind of city are we going to live in without things that give us additional joy, or things that improve our quality of life beyond the basics of health, transportation and schooling?”
Canada’s Chris Spring, Alexander Kopacz, Joshua Kirkpatrick, and Derek Plug compete in a World Cup bobsled event in Calgary in 2014. WinSport says the track is at the end of its life and without more government funding, will close indefinitely at the end of March.
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