Josh Freed: Let’s make the Big Owe a ruin of our own

We could turn it into a “Museum of Failure,” chronicling one of the century’s great construction screwups.

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Welcome to another season of The Olympic Stadium Sinkhole Saga, Season 37, Episode 9999: The longest-playing, most expensive soap opera in Quebec and perhaps the world.

Even ancient Rome’s Colosseum took less than 10 years to complete, but we’re still at it 48 years later.

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As longtime Montreal viewers know, it’s been a disaster series like no other, filled with wild dreams, dashed hopes, hubris, heartbreak and freight trucks’ worth of money.

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Yet almost every season of our Stadium Saga has the same conclusion: “Let’s fix it again, with Quebecers paying the bill.”

However, I have a plan to change the plotline, maybe even the ending, so stay tuned! But first, here’s where the story’s at now:

Once again, the villain in this season’s storyline is The Roof That Goofed, a brutalist-looking, money-eating parasite that’s leaked, cracked, crumbled and collapsed for decades. Now it’s on another literal “tear,” with an estimated 20,000 holes (who counts them, anyway?) — more Swiss cheese than stadium.

Quebec says it will cost $870 million to replace the roof again, but expect that figure to multiply by 2.2 — our province’s usual price overrun factor.

Supposedly it will be completed in four years, but a truer estimate came in a La Presse cartoon, showing a grey-haired Taylor Swift arriving for the roof’s inauguration using a walker.

Whatever happens, the Big Owe will never make for great viewing. The sound system sucks and the sight lines are practically out of sight because of its immensity. It’s a vast, desolate thing that only survives because no one knows what else to do with it.

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The government claims it would cost a staggering $2 billion to demolish. So we have to re-repair it, largely because we can’t afford to tear it down. (FYI: Other North American stadiums have come down for under $80 million.)

We need to find another purpose for our concrete white elephant while leaving it just as it is, so we can afford to build a new stadium. But what can we do with our decaying Olympic ruin?

Fear not: I have a brilliant plan.

Many politicians, like Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, feel we shouldn’t demolish the tower because it’s a city symbol, even if it symbolizes failure.

But I say let’s seize that symbol and celebrate it for what it is — a monumental mistake.

Let’s turn the Big O into a “Museum of Failure,” chronicling one of the century’s great construction screwups. Imagine the thrilling exhibits:

The construction catastrophe room: Over the decades, the stadium has seen fires, countless roof rips causing mass evacuations, giant slabs of collapsing concrete and a roof cave-in that injured people during an auto show.

It’s a jaw-dropping, concrete-dropping tale, right out of a cursed medieval castle.

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The stadium hasn’t killed anyone yet, but it did help kill the Expos and chase the Alouettes off to Molson Stadium. So why not give it a chance to kill again?

The ballooning budget room: It’s been called our billion-dollar baby, but we underestimate the Big Owe’s real value. Six years ago, the Olympic installations board calculated the true overall cost as $1.7 billion, or $5.2 billion in 2018 dollars.

Plante could have the métro’s Pink Line line with that money, or Quebec Premier François Legault could blow it on a tunnel.

Experts say we could build a standard, new 21st century stadium for a mere $1.5 billion, cheaper than tearing ours down.

The corruption chamber: This exhibit could start by displaying the original $134-million estimate. It would end with the Charbonneau corruption commission and the colourful scandals it unearthed.

Alleged kickbacks to the Mafia and the mayor’s party. A character nicknamed “Mr. Three Per Cent”  because he took bribes of … three per cent. Also “Monsieur GST,” who charged another 0.5 per cent “tax.”

In fact, the Olympics have been tainted by scandal since Philip of Macedon was rumoured to have paid officials three harlots and five goats to win the 500-metre chariot race in ancient Greece.

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So this room would also be a testament to Olympic tradition.

Overall, I think an Olympic Museum of Failure could be a popular global attraction, rivalling other famed ruins, like Pompeii and the Parthenon.

But while those are ancient, outdated ruins, ours would be the first major modern-day ruin.

We could heighten tourist excitement by requiring visitors to wear safety helmets and take out adventure-tour insurance.

In fairness, there is a smaller Museum of Failure in Sweden that displays failed ideas that “bombed boldly,” like Classic Coke and Heinz green ketchup.

Perhaps we could include a similar exhibit here, too, with other famous failures, from limeade-flavoured Oreo cookies to Colgate frozen beef lasagna and spray-on condoms (honest).

But unlike Sweden, these mini-screwups would be housed in our vastly more impressive Olympic-sized failure.

I believe much of the reason Quebec governments keep fixing the stadium is they can’t bear the embarrassment of tearing it down and admitting it failed, even if it failed magnificently.

But I say let’s embrace that failure and turn it into something we can finally take pride in: “The Montreal Museum of Magnificent Failure.”

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