The Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games were expensive, they caused massive traffic problems, and they were faced with an apathetic public. Vv Magazine investigates the lessons we can learn from the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.
The Games are a big deal. They’re a showcase of national pride and unity between various cultures. Ideally, they also result in a boom for the local economy. However, when the Pan Am games hit Toronto, they received a lukewarm welcome, so much so that the NY Times slapped us on the wrist with the headline “In an Indifferent Toronto, the Pan-Am Games land with a thud.”
For months, the city was buzzing with ideas on how to prepare our infrastructure for what was expected to be a huge influx of bodies, and, well, money. Small businesses created contingency plans, expecting that their employees might not be able to make it to work. Thousands of helpful volunteers were brought on and trained. Toronto Police Services were on high alert (and someone, somewhere spent time creating this way cool ’80s-style logo for their Pan Am info Twitter).
According to the Financial Post, the 2015 Toronto games were the most expensive, with a $2.5 billion budget; in 1999, Winnipeg did it on a comparatively shoestring budget of $129 million. Penny pinching, obviously. Let’s not even talk about how much was spent building the 10 new sports facilities in Southern Ontario—including a cool $56 million for a velodrome in Milton, Ont., featuring untreated Siberian Spruce. Know what else is good and comes from Russia? Caviar. Also, those giant white tents? The Financial Post reports that they cost an average of $10,000 and were brought from Peru, Dubai, and France (among other locations) by ship. Anyways.
First off, it’s fair to say that Toronto did succeed culturally. There were visitors coming from different countries, many of which were probably new to the city. According to Now Toronto, 750,000 people attended Panamania and those nightly fireworks choreographed to “We are strong, we are beautiful” etc. went off without a hitch.
Also, according to a report in The Toronto Star, the Pan Am Games coaxed consumers into opening their wallets; entertainment spending rose by 53.2% between July 10 and 26; fast food sales rose by 22.14% compared to last year (sit-down restaurants and bars and pubs saw a 3.62% and 2.36 boost, respectively). Those visiting from abroad also contributed to the spike, with a 260.3% rise compared to the same time last year.
But what about the rest of it? Before the start of the games, ticket sales were bleak, no doubt in part because of the lack of recognizable star power. According to The Globe and Mail, 1.4 million tickets were expected to sell, but only about half the limit was reached. A week into the games, however, they crossed the 1 million ticket line, and towards the last days of the Pan Am Games, excitement began to build, likely bolstered by how many gold medals Team Canada was racking in. Way to show support, guys. If you want to show support for your national team, go to all their games, not only after you hear that they’re winning. Bandwagoners.
Then there were the hotels. In late May, the CBC reported that Pan Am hotel bookings were lower than expected. Many rooms were left empty, even after the games began. In a CBC article published in early June, hotels in Toronto expected the Pan Am committee to place requests for a bunch of rooms, but many of them fell short as the committee cancelled the reservations. The Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel, for example, had 60% of the rooms cancelled, as reported by CBC. Many hotels even dropped Pan Am bookings in general because they weren’t getting any reservations. Things looked very bleak, but the Toronto Star report claims that GTA hotel spending rose 8.2% compared to last year. Not quite the boost they were expecting maybe, but still not a loss. To be fair, many game attendees opted to commute to venues, which caused more havoc than anything in terms of traffic density.
As we all know, traffic sucked. The Gardiner sucked. This was pushed to the limit with the introduction of the HOV lanes, which caused more accidents than ever. This lane for cars bearing 3 people or more was intended to promote carpooling, although it also ended up promoting human/mannequin relations. Carpooling or not, it still took much longer to get downtown (or to those venues outside the city proper).
And what about those projects that went over budget? York University, for example, houses the CIBC Athletics Stadium, but due to delays and additional work, as-yet undisclosed extra costs can be expected according to the Toronto Star.
Toronto may have fallen short of being the best Games host from start to finish, but by the end of the Parapan Am Games, the city seemed significantly more excited. The CEO of Toronto2015 said that these were “largest, loudest and best Parapan Am Games ever,” according to the Huffington Post. Still, there’s no denying that they could’ve been better organized, particularly given the gap between the original sky-high expectations and how it all went down. So, now the question becomes: can Toronto do better if we move forward with the bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics? Toronto 2015 has definitely been a learning experience, and now we’ll have to wait and see what this fall (and perhaps 2024) brings.
What are your thoughts on how the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games went down in Toronto? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.