Alouettes, Montreal

Olympic Stadium (Montreal)

The Olympic Stadium (Stade olympique) is a multi-purpose stadium in Montreal, Quebec, Canada built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. It subsequently became the home of Montreal's professional baseball and Canadian football teams. Since the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C. in , the stadium has had no main tenant, and with a history of financial and structural problems, is largely seen as a white elephant. It currently serves as a 56,040-seat multipurpose facility for special events (e.g. concerts, trade shows) during non-winter months, and continues to serve as a venue for Grey Cup games hosted by the Montreal Alouettes. La tour de Montréal, the tower incorporated into the base of the stadium, is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175 metres, and is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers.

History

Background and Architecture

The stadium was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert to be a very elaborate facility featuring a retractable roof, which was to be opened and closed by a huge 175-metre (approx. 574 ft) tower – the tallest inclined structure in the world, six metres (20 ft) taller than the Washington Monument, and the sixth tallest building in Montreal. The design of the stadium is remarkably similar to the Australia Pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka by Queensland University architect James MacCormick.

The Olympic swimming pool is located under this tower. An Olympic velodrome (since converted to the Montreal Biodome, an indoor nature museum) was situated at the base of the tower in a building similar in design to the swimming pool. The building was built as the main stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium was host to various events including: the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, football finals, and some equestrian events.

The building's design is cited as a masterpiece of Organic Modern architecture. Taillibert based the building on plant and animal forms, aiming to include vertebral structures with sinewy or tentacles, while still following the basic plans of Modern architecture.

Construction

As construction was well underway, a labour strike caused a major delay to the building of the tower. The roof languished in a warehouse in France until 1982. It was not until 1987, over a decade later, that both the tower and roof were completed, officially completing construction of the stadium as originally designed.

Opening

Problems plagued the stadium from the time it opened for the Olympic Games, when it was only half built.

Seating 58,500 at the time, the stadium was not fully completed in time for the Games due to problems with the unusual design and strikes by construction workers, leaving it without a tower or roof for the opening and several years following. Both the tower and the roof, made of over 60,000 square feet (5,575 square metres) of Kevlar, were not completed for over a decade, and it was not until 1988 that it was possible to retract the roof. The 65-ton roof then proved difficult to retract, and could not be used at all in winds greater than 25 mph. This resulted in the unique phenomenon of a rain delay in a covered stadium during baseball season whenever rain was accompanied by high winds. It was also torn during particularly windy conditions.

Stadium financing

Despite initial projections in 1970 that the stadium would cost only C$134 million to construct, strikes and construction delays served to escalate these costs. By the time the stadium opened (in an unfinished form), the total costs had risen to C$264 million.

The Quebec government introduced a special tobacco tax in May 1976 to help recoup its investment. By 2006, the amount contributed to the Olympic Installations Board accounted for 8% of the tax revenue earned from cigarette sales. The 1976 special tobacco tax act stipulated that once the stadium was paid off, ownership of the facility would be returned back to the City of Montreal.

In December 2006 the stadium's costs were finally paid in full. The total expenditure (including repairs, renovations, construction, interest, and inflation) amounted to C$1.61 billion. Despite initial plans to complete payment in October 2006, an indoor smoking ban introduced in May 2006 curtailed the revenue gathered by the tobacco tax. Perceived by many to be a white elephant, the stadium has also been dubbed The Big Owe, Uh-O or The Big Mistake.

Continuing problems

Although not completed in time for the 1976 Olympics, construction on finishing the tower recommenced in the 1980s. During this period, however, a large fire set the tower ablaze, causing damage and forcing a scheduled Expos home game to be postponed. In 1986, a large chunk of the tower fell onto the playing field during another Expos game.

In 1987 an orange-coloured Kevlar retractable roof was installed, finally completing the stadium a decade late; however, soon after it was put into use it ripped on several occasions due to design flaw. In the months that followed, it was plagued by further rips and even leaks whenever it rained, bringing water down into the stadium.

Due to claims of being a poor venue for baseball, the stadium was remodeled in 1991, with 12,000 seats being removed for Expos games. Most of those seats were in a distant section of the center field stands.

On September 8 of that year, support beams snapped and caused a 55-ton concrete slab to fall on to an exterior walkway. No one was injured, but the Expos had to move their final 13 home games of that season to the opponents' cities. For the 1992 season, it was decided to keep the roof closed at all times. The Kevlar roof was removed in May 1998, making the stadium open-air for the 1998 season. Later in 1998, a $26 million opaque blue roof was installed which does not open.

In January 1999, a 350 square metre portion of the roof collapsed, dumping ice and snow on workers that were setting up for the annual Montreal Auto Show. This led to the auto show leaving Olympic Stadium for good. Repaired once again, the roof has been modified to better react to the winter conditions. The OIB has installed a network of pipes to circulate heated water under the roof to allow for snow melting. Despite these corrective measures, the stadium floor remains closed from December to March. The contractors, manufacturers and engineers of the roof are now being sued for the roof failure.

The stadium's condition suffered considerably in the early 21st century. During the Expos' final years in Montreal, it was coated with grime. Much of the concrete was chipped, stained, and soiled.

Post-Olympic use

Football

The Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes became the stadium's first major post-Olympic tenant when it moved its home games there half-way through the 1976 season and used the location until 1986. The football team returned shortly for the 1996 and 1997 seasons, but then moved back to the Percival Molson Stadium in 1998, only using the Olympic Stadium for select regular-season and home playoff games. As of the 2008, it is currently being used for playoff games only. Due to the increased popularity of the Alouettes and the small capacity of Percival Molson Stadium, considerations had been made about returning to play full-time at Olympic Stadium, provided changes were made to make it more fan-friendly (such as removing the roof and curtaining off the upper level for regular-season games). It now appears that the team will, instead, renovate Percival Molson Stadium to increase the capacity, which may cause them to abandon Olympic Stadium entirely.

The stadium is a Grey Cup venue; the CFL championship was held there most recently in 2001 and is scheduled to return in 2008. The stadium holds the record for the five largest crowds in CFL history, which include two regular-season and three Grey Cup games. The single-game record of 69,093 was played on September 6 1977 between the Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.

In 1991 and 1992, the stadium played host to the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football. This included hosting World Bowl II on June 6 1992, in which the Sacramento Surge defeated the Orlando Thunder 21-17 before 43,789 fans.

Baseball

In 1977, the stadium replaced Jarry Park Stadium as the home ballpark of the National League's Montreal Expos, who regularly played 81 home games every season until 2003, when the Expos played 22 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Expos played 59 home games at Olympic Stadium in 2003 and 2004, and then the franchise was moved to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season. The stadium's first-ever baseball game was played on April 14, . In front of 57,592 fans, the Expos lost 7-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Expos played five home playoff games in 1981; two in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, and three in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On October 19, the Expos lost the decisive fifth game, 2-1, to the Dodgers on Rick Monday's ninth-inning home run. In 1982, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played at Olympic Stadium in front of 59,057 fans--a stadium record for baseball. Before the 1992 season, a major overhaul was done on the stadium's baseball configuration. The new layout moved the fans closer to the action and reduced the capacity to 46,000. On September 29, , the Expos played their last game in Montreal, losing 9-1 to the Florida Marlins before 31,395 fans.

Although the Expos were Olympic Stadium's primary tenants, it proved to be somewhat problematic as a baseball venue. It employed construction techniques similar to those used in other multipurpose stadiums of the time. As was the case elsewhere where this approach was tried, sight lines for baseball left much to be desired. The sight-line problems were magnified by the fact that Canadian football fields are 30 yards longer than American football fields. To accommodate the wider Canadian football field, the lower boxes were set further back than comparable seats in other stadiums built during this time. Still, the Expos were very successful in the stadium for a time, with above National League median attendance in 1977 and from 1979 to 1983. The Expos outdrew the New York Mets from 1977 to 1983, and 1994 to 1996, as well as the New York Yankees from 1982 to 1983.

Soccer

Olympic Stadium was the home of the NASL's Montreal Manic soccer team from 1981-1983. A 1981 playoff game against the Chicago Sting attracted a crowd of over 58,000. Several games of the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup were played at Olympic Stadium and drew the largest crowds of the tournament, including two sell-outs of 55,800.

Other

The stadium also has various other multipurpose uses.

On September 11 1984, Pope John Paul II participated in a youth rally with about 55,000 people in attendance.

The Montreal Canadiens are in discussions with the Régie des Installations Olympiques about playing a game in Olympic Stadium during 2009 as part of its centennial celebrations, though details, including the date, are yet to be confirmed.

Transit

The stadium is directly connected to the Pie-IX metro station on the Green Line of the Montreal Metro.

Facts and figures

  • At 175 m (574 ft), the Olympic Stadium is both the world's tallest slanted structure and stadium.
  • Well over its original budget, the stadium ended up costing $770 million to construct. By 2006, the final cost had risen to $1.47 billion when calculating in repairs, modifications and interest paid out. It took taxpayers 30 years to finally pay off the cost, leading to its nickname of "The Big Owe" (a play on "The Big O").
  • The roof is only 52 metres (173 ft 4 in) above the field of play. As a result, a number of pop-ups and long home runs hit the roof over the years, necessitating the painting of orange lines on the roof to separate foul balls from fair balls.
  • The Olympic Stadium's foul poles were painted red, while every other baseball stadium uses yellow poles (except Shea Stadium home of the New York Mets which has orange foul poles.)
  • Olympic Stadium holds the record for a soccer game attendance in Canada. At the 1976 Summer Olympics soccer final, 72,000 people witnessed East Germany's 3-1 win over Poland.
  • A yellow seat on the 300 level commemorates a 534-foot home run by Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • The Montreal games of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup were held at Olympic Stadium on a FieldTurf surface that was installed specifically for the tournament.

See also

Notes

References

  • Rémillard, Francois. Montreal architecture: A Guide to Styles and Buildings. Montreal: Meridian Press, 1990.

External links

Multimedia

  • CBC Archives - Clip from 1975 – Stadium architect talks about his design
  • CBC Archives – A look back on the history of the stadium (1999)
  • CBC Archives - Discussion of building a tower for Montreal


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