SLID­ING TRACK IN TROU­BLE

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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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