Project Management Institute

Let the games begin

CIBC Pan Am Park encompasses multiple venues and will host 15 sports during the 2015 Pan Am Games.



CA$1.4 billion

Total budget of 2015 Pan Am Games projects

CA$1.5 billion

Debt incurred by Montreal, Quebec, Canada to host the 1976 Olympic Games

CA$700 million

The games' capital program budget

When 7,600 athletes gather in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to compete in the 2015 Pan American Games in July, they won't be the only ones looking to stand out internationally. Determined to avoid building the type of “white elephant” infrastructure often associated with major international sporting events, leaders of the CA$1.4 billion, six-year initiative took creative approaches to financing and facility designs.

The Pan Am Games, held every four years, are the world's third-largest international multi-sport event, behind the Olympic Summer Games and the Asian Games. In assessing project results from these events, one major lesson stood out: The games’ value for the city should last beyond its 16 days of competition.

“We've seen it in Olympics from Athens, Greece to Sochi, Russia. Either venues aren't used for much longer after the games or, as with the London Olympics, temporary infrastructure is built and then taken out afterwards,” says Tobias Novogrodsky, director of strategic planning and implementation, 2015 Pan American Games, City of Toronto.



“The venues we built will have a lasting legacy for the communities in which they're built.”

—Jason Fellen, Toronto 2015, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

That's why, when the project began in 2009, the team focused on the future. “The venues we built will have a lasting legacy for the communities in which they're built,” says Jason Fellen, senior director of capital projects for Toronto 2015, the games’ organizing committee.

To make this happen, the team created a document detailing both the Pan Am Games’ short-term facility requirements and the community's long-term needs. Project managers then worked to incorporate both sets of needs into the designs. For instance, the CA$205 million aquatic center and field house in Scarborough, Ontario, which was built for the competition, features two Olympic-sized pools. But a portion of one pool's floor can be raised to accommodate children learning to swim.

Researching past international sports events also uncovered another useful lesson learned: To avoid a financial boondoggle, the host city should identify the games’ potential risks and rewards before submitting its bid. This meant defining many aspects of the project plan up front, says Mr. Novogrodsky.

“The minute you win the right to host the event, your leverage as the host community begins to decline because you're on the hook,” he says. “The reputational impact of nondelivery is huge.”

The CA$205 million aquatic center and field house in Scarborough, Ontario will also serve the local community's needs.


As they created the initial plan, Mr. Novogrodsky and his team worked to ensure two things above all—that the financial burden of the games wouldn't fall entirely on Toronto and that all new or renovated athletic facilities would serve the community long after the closing ceremony.

“If you're going to host an event of provincial or national significance, it shouldn't fall to local property taxpayers to bear that financial risk. That's what has happened time and again in other jurisdictions,” says Mr. Novogrodsky, who oversaw the city's CA$96.5 million program of 11 new or upgraded facilities for the games. (Another 19 athletic venues built or renovated for the games are outside of Toronto in 15 southern Ontario municipalities.)



“The minute you win the right to host the event, your leverage as the host community begins to decline because you're on the hook. The reputational impact of nondelivery is huge.”

—Tobias Novogrodsky, 2015 Pan American Games, City of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Mr. Novogrodsky points to two debt-laden Canadian examples that helped spur the team's proactive planning: the 1976 Olympic Games hosted by Montreal, which resulted in CA$1.5 billion in debt that took the city three decades to pay off, and the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver, which had to pay down a CA$630 million debt incurred to complete the athletes’ village.

To avoid such outcomes, the governments of Toronto, Ontario and Canada agreed on a plan that split infrastructure costs among the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and named the province of Ontario as the games’ financial guarantor. In return, the province required that its own infrastructure agency, Infrastructure Ontario, manage the project.

The plan of shared risk and responsibility paid off. Except for one of the smaller athletic facilities, the budget of which increased due to a scope shift from a temporary to a permanent structure, all of the city's projects have come in on time and on budget, Mr. Novogrodsky says.

The Finish Line

Given the program's shared funding structure, clear communication was crucial for executing the games’ CA$700 million capital program of new and renovated facility projects.

To streamline collaboration among myriad stakeholders—including the organizing committee, the facilities’ owners, the contractors and government officials—Mr. Fellen's team established clear governance structures and lines of decision-making authority.

It also selected partners that were best prepared to manage the predefined risks. For example, the team couldn't control Canada's harsh winters, but it could hire contractors who understood their implications.

“We looked for contractors who understood there will be lost days due to weather and who built float into their schedules,” Mr. Fellen says.

His team then worked with the contractors to create schedules that would get the buildings enclosed as quickly as possible so they could work indoors. And when faced with weather delays, the project team re-sequenced activities from a sequential to a simultaneous workflow.

Given the program's shared funding structure, clear communication was crucial for executing the games’ CA$700 million capital program of new and renovated facility projects.


After six years of meticulous planning and execution, project leaders are confident the games will deliver benefits for both the athletes and the community hosting them, Mr. Fellen says.

“While the catalyst was the games,” he says, in the long-term “we're encouraging recreation participation to improve communities and create a healthier lifestyle.” —Novid Parsi

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