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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkAmericas & Beyond | May 2008 

Guadalajara Has What Toronto Lacks
email this pageprint this pageemail usBill Lankhof - Toronto Sun
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Mexico's No. 2 city goes full bore on 2011 Pan Am Games, showing sports facilities are affordable.
 
Guadalajara is birthplace to mariachi. Toronto has traditional Mirvishian theatre.

Guadalajara has tequila. Toronto has beer, eh.

Guadalajara is home to charro, the Mexican-style rodeo. Toronto is the self-proclaimed centre of the hockey universe.

Guadalajara is getting the world's sixth Guggenheim Museum. Toronto has the $270-million Crystal Museum.

Guadalajara has the 2011 Pan Am Games. Toronto should be so lucky.

As a bid for the 2015 Games by Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe bogs down in provincial political bureaucracy, what might be - what could be, for Ontario's dilapidated sports facilities - is on display and under construction in Mexico's second-most populous city.

'ISN'T THAT EXPENSIVE'

"One of the best excuses for holding these Games is that if you're lacking sports infrastructure this is a cost-effective way to get them," says Ivar Sisniega, Guadalajara 2011 international relations and sports director. "Santo Domingo did it in 2003 and they've been left with a tremendous legacy for their sports."

"Something like the Pan Am Games, considering the magnitude of the event, isn't that expensive," he said. "We'll probably spend $180 million to $200 million for the sports infrastructure. The whole Games we don't think will go much over $250 million."

Guadalajara, like Toronto, is a metropolitan area comprising close to five million people. It is known as the "Pearl of the West," capital of the state of Jalisco, and, like Toronto, is known for culture, theatre, museums and as the country's No. 1 destination for business tourism.

Unlike Toronto, it already has 10 Olympic-size pools, has been the sub-site for a Pan Am Games in 1975, the 1968 Olympics and soccer World Cups in 1970 and 1986. Toronto? This province, let alone this city, hasn't seen international multi-sport games since the 1930 Commonwealth Games in Hamilton. We have an Olympic-size pool, but it leaks. Our track and field venue lives in imagination only and it is becoming necessary to live west of Winnipeg to train and become an Olympian.

"Once you have these kind of Games you improve your position within and outside your country. Barcelona wasn't Barcelona before it got the Olympic Games. In a more modest sense, we are doing the same in Guadalajara," says Horacio de la Vega, marketing director for Guadalajara 2011.

"Cost is always a concern. It is here, too, but ... a lot of the investment will pay off after the Games: New hotels, the downtown is being re-engineered, the airport is getting a second terminal. The streets will be improved and public transportation for citizens is going to be improved," he said. "Those things are as important as the sports facilities for our citizens."

While the Pan Am Games have lost status particularly in the United States, they are still hugely popular in Latin America. In Rio de Janeiro in 2007, they attracted more than 5,000 athletes from 42 countries.

"It's more than a sports event. This is a historic event for our country; the largest multi-sport event ever held outside Mexico City. It will have an effect on many areas of life for people here," de la Vega says. "It's a good excuse to get top sports infrastructure for Guadalajara ... but just like places such as Monterey, we're trying to establish ourselves as being worldly cities and this is part of that effort."

Toronto and its politicians talk about being world class, but it hasn't built an arena in 40 years and the city coffers look like those coffee cups held by the panhandlers along Front St. Empty.

In Guadalajara, Mayor Alfonso Petersen Farah convinced 84 owners to sell their downtown property (at up to 200% of its assessed value) to the city as part of an urban renewal project. It took him less than two months. It takes our politicians longer than that to decide whether to have the free hot dinner or the free cold buffet during council meetings.

"It has overwhelming support," Sisniega says. Meantime, an Ontario government feasibility study on a potential bid by the Golden Horseshoe, which proponents of the Games believed would be presented to the province in weeks, is now not expected to be ready until the end of June. Maybe.

In Guadalajara, renowned U.S. architect Rick Joy is overseeing construction of 12 towers on that land purchased by the city. They will serve as an athletes village, then become low-cost housing. The Villa Panamericana village will wrap around and transform the Parque Morelos, with its 100-year-old trees. Says a reporter with the Guadalajara Reporter, the city's English newspaper: "The area is rough. It's just this side of being on the wrong side of the tracks. But it's not far from the theatre area or the downtown with some of the nicer, old colonial hotels, and the city hopes that the Villa Panamericana can rejuvenate the downtown historical area."

In other words, a little like turning Moss Park from an outdoor urinal into a place for families, kids and puppy-dog tails. "The Games have become an important part of Guadalajara's long-term development strategy," Sisniega says.

"The people understand it will mean a lot to Guadalajara after the Games."

THE BRICKS & MORTAR

The Games in Guadalajara are a living example of the ones envisioned by Paul Henderson, one of the original proponents for bringing the Games to Toronto. The facilities are modest with a lot of temporary seating. Most are intended to be utilized in future as training sites and teaching facilities for elite athletes or for community use.

"We're building the whole sports infrastructure in mind with what we can do with them after the Games. In other words we're not building extremely large facilities," Sisniega says. "The aquatic centre will be (up to) 6,000 seats and have two Olympic-size pools and a diving level. Not huge. The athletic facility will seat 15,000 during the Games and then go back to a 5,000-seat arena. Most facilities are like that. Reasonably sized ... good for recreational use but they'll have the ability to host international events in the future."

Like Henderson's proposal to spread the facilities throughout the Golden Horseshoe, the 2011 Games will be shared throughout the state of Jalisco and as far away as Puerto Vallarta. "Our position is to benefit the regions and municipalities to the best of our abilities," Jalisco State Governor Gonzalez Marquez told the Guadalajara Reporter after Puerto Vallarta was named home to sailing, triathlon and beach volleyball.

Sisniega said 10 new stadiums are on target to be completed one year before the (October) 2011 Games. "We've inaugurated the volleyball arena. We're close to finishing the covered velodrome and shooting range. We've started the basketball site."

Gymnasts from eight countries put on an exhibition in March to open a $5.5-million, 3,500-seat gymnastics stadium.

This, all on top of already having a 60,000-seat soccer stadium that will be host of opening and closing ceremonies. "We already had pretty good infrastructure, enough for all the different sports right now," Sisniega says. "We could've actually held the Games tomorrow. But this will take us to another level. It's the difference between having just a facility or one that can host an international event."

Toronto? In most instances it doesn't have even "just a facility." But if you call City Hall, you can get your choice of garbage cans in three sizes!

THE AFTERGLOW

Call it a cleaner world through sports. Who knew? The largest section in the city's official bid book deals not with facilities or even sports but with environmental initiatives. Lakes are to get cleaner, drinking water monitored and the downtown scrubbed down.

A new convention centre is opening. A Guadalajara-Puerto Vallarta highway and the greater bypass for southern Guadalajara is under construction. The Games have brought jobs and they will leave a legacy "of new leaders in business," de la Vega says.

The Torrena Tower next to the Plaza del Sol shopping mall will be Latin America's tallest communications tower when it is completed. New hotels are popping up. The city will have 22,000 hotel rooms by 2011 and the Centro Cultural Metropolitano, a 10,000-seat performing arts auditorium, is under construction.

Sisniega calls the mayor's athletes village project "revolutionary."

"In major cities the downtown areas tend not to be residential any more," he said. "Normally this kind of construction is done outside the city. The city government is re-engineering the downtown to give it a residential feel." It's based on a similar project in Rio de Janeiro which turned the 2003 athletes village into a residential/parkland area.

Says de la Vega: "In Rio, the prices of the flats were low and they sold out in one week and I think you'll see a similar thing here because they'll be in the centre of Guadalajara, a nice place to be ... people will want to live here."

It will be just a walk from the Guggenheim of Guadalajara, which is expected to cost up to $300 million alone - just in case anyone believes culture is sport's poorer overlooked cousin.

While cost will become a major issue surrounding a Toronto bid, de la Vega believes Mexicans are looking for a more intrinsic return. "This is not just about facilities and hosting a good Games. It is also about a good performance in sport. It's about getting a historic result. That's going to be crucial for how people look at these Games. From the people's perspective I think it's going to be more important to have the best results ever."

PASS THE BREAD, FORGET THE CIRCUS

The Games in Guadalajara have not come without critics. Take Mayor Petersen's athletes village. Please? So say social activists. While some see a downtown eyesore being cleaned up, others see the poor displaced and middle-class businesses being uprooted.

"It is actually a project seperate from the Games," de la Vega says, "and it is (getting) all of the complaints of the Games."

To make room for the 4,000-apartments/athletes village, seven establishments serving the traditional nieve raspada (a kind of slushy) around Parque Morelos - some over 50 years old and employing 50 to 100 people in and behind vast parlours with scores of tables - must close and head for an uncertain future. Noe Hernandez is worried about his business, Neverias Las Palmas, which was founded by his parents and now supports his three children.

"Nothing has been decided yet," he told the Guadalajara Reporter. "Maybe we'll go into stands along the street." But how 76 employees will fit in a tiny stand is unclear.

It is not hard finding bloggers complaining about violence, poverty being swept under bureaucratic rugs and ill treatment of Mexico's indigenous people. Change the names and places and it could be Toronto.

Since their inception in 1951, the Pan Am Games have had successful stops in Winnipeg - twice. But does Toronto need the aggravation, the cost, the construction detours and political bickering?

Sisniega says it is not for him to say but, "having Toronto would be a great candidate. I'm surprised it has such few facilities now. I wouldn't expect that from a city like Toronto. It's hard to understand how Winnipeg could have hosted two Pan Am Games but Toronto hasn't had any. The Pan Ams would definitely help get facilities without the excessiv e costs of an Olympics. Some things are just worth investing in."



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