Toronto Star

Toronto’s dilemma: Olympics or Expo?

- Bob Hepburn

Kristyn Wong-Tam is a big fan of the Pan Am Games, which close on Sunday after a successful 16-day run. She also likes the idea of Toronto hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

But what most excites the city councillor is the possibilit­y of Toronto staging Expo 2025, a major world fair that could attract more than 40 million visitors.

“Expos have the power to transform cities,” WongTam says as she talks passionate­ly of her dream of Toronto hosting the internatio­nal fair in 2025. “It happened in Shanghai, Montreal and Vancouver. It’s happening right now in Milan with Expo 2015. If they can do it, why can’t we do it here?”

Wong-Tam is convinced Toronto’s successful staging of the Pan Am Games could go a long way in helping the city seek the rights to Expo 2025.

But Toronto city council is facing a huge dilemma: Should it bid for the 2024 Olympics or the 2025 Expo?

It’s a major decision — and it must be made within weeks, not months or years.

That’s because Sept. 15 is the deadline for the city to submit a letter of intent to the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee to bid for the 2024 Games. Formal bids will be made in mid-2016, with the IOC choosing the winning city in the summer of 2017.

An Expo bid must be formally submitted by Nov. 1, 2016, with the Paris-based Bureau Internatio­nal des Exposition­s (BIE), which governs such events, selecting the winner in late 2017.

Supporters of an Olympics bid have been vocal in the past two weeks, arguing that the success of the Pan Am Games has boosted the city’s chances of winning the 2024 Games.

Wong-Tam, though, makes a convincing argument that, as much as she would like to see the Olympics here, the city would be much better off if it held Expo 2025.

She says Expo 2025, which would run for six months (as opposed to three weeks for the Olympics), would bring more tourists to the area, create tens of thousands of additional jobs and leave a better infrastruc­ture and transit legacy, especially in the Port Lands, than would the Olympics. She talks of a Toronto Expo as being socially responsibl­e, inclusive and environmen­tally sustainabl­e, adding that it would be beneficial for city building and national identity.

An Expo “is not just a party,” but an event that could be the catalyst for an economic boom with long-term benefits for the city and the region, much as occurred in Montreal and Vancouver during their Expos in 1967 and 1986 respective­ly.

The councillor for Ward 27 (Toronto Centre— Rosedale) is so enthusiast­ic about a potential Toronto bid that she will be visiting Expo 2025 in Milan and meeting officials there next month during her vacation. She is paying for the trip entirely out of her own pocket.

As well, she is working with Tory to invite Vicente Gonzalez Loscertale­s, secretary-general of the BIE, to visit Toronto in November or December and to deliver a keynote luncheon address about the power of Expos to transform cities.

Toronto has tried in recent years to host the World Expo, which is held every five years. In 2006, it missed a deadline to bid for the 2015 Expo, which subsequent­ly was awarded to Milan.

In 2012, city council supported conducting a feasibilit­y study, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper squashed the idea. His support was critical because any bid by Toronto actually has to be submitted by the federal government.

Harper is worried about costs, but Wong-Tam says there are solid business reasons why Toronto should stage Expo 2025.

A feasibilit­y study conducted in 2014 for city council projected Expo 2025 would create 190,000 jobs, generate $5.4 billion in new tax revenues and spark $15.5 billion in economic activity, with more than half of it in the GTA. Total cost for Expo was forecast at up to $13.5 billion, compared to $17.1 billion for the Olympics. The biggest extra Olympic cost is the $800 million to $1 billion for a 90,000-seat stadium.

To date, the leading contenders for Expo 2025 are London and Paris. Both have the solid backing of their national and local government­s.

Wong-Tam is right to push for the Expo 2025 bid. So too are proponents who are seeking the Olympics in 2024. Both projects would create jobs, build infrastruc­ture and leave lasting legacies that could make this city proud.

And there is no reason why both bids can’t go forward at the same time. That’s exactly what Paris is doing with its Olympic and Expo bids.

With the Pan Am Games, Toronto has proven it can play host to the world.

We can do it again with the 2024 Olympics and Expo 2025. Bob Hepburn’s column appears Sunday.

Kristyn Wong-Tam is right to push for the Expo 2025 bid

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