Will they blow up Olympic Stadium?

Quebecers are about to kick off brainstorming sessions on the future of one of Canada's biggest white elephants: Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

For the first time, the provincial agency in charge of the aging, billion-dollar "Big O" also know as the "Big Owe" will accept ideas from the public.

The first meetings begin next week and a committee of nine Quebecers will present a report on the consultations next year.

The head of the committee said the province's desire to map out the future of the stadium, and the surrounding facilities, marks a historic shift for a site that has long been an infamous symbol of cost overruns and bad government planning.

The committee expects to receive ideas from social, cultural and sports groups as well as individuals at meetings that run through the fall.

Committee head Lise Bissonnette said all options are on the table except one frequently touted one: demolishing the stadium, which is seldom used and constantly in need of repair.

Bissonnette, the former publisher of the Montreal francophone daily Le Devoir, said she's been told that blasting alone couldn't take down the concrete behemoth.

"The way the stadium is built you cannot demolish it by just putting some dynamite in it and getting rid of it in a day it would take months," she said Wednesday of demolition, whose cost has been estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"You would have to do it almost by hand with the kind of concrete that's there."

She said the money would be better spent on renovations to relaunch the stadium and the surrounding Olympic Park facilities, which include museums, a sports centre and a 165-metre inclined tower.

Bissonnette said the stadium and its tower are important components of the Montreal skyline, and compared them to the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House.

"Though the stadium had its problems, as a piece of architecture it's absolutely famous and beautiful," she said.

"To demolish that would be, I think, a sort of failure that we would not recover from symbolically."

The stadium, which has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion since 1972, housed the 1976 Summer Games, was home to Major League Baseball's Expos, and has been the venue for numerous concerts. The Canadian Football League's Alouettes have also used it in recent years for playoff games.


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