Just a signature isn't going to cut it - huge opportunity for the city to leverage the Commonwealth Games. It can happen

By Pepper Parr

January 30th, 2023



Oscar Wilde once famously quipped that the definition of a cynic is “one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

It was interesting to listen to Council last week discuss the adding of the signature of Mayor Marianne Ward to a list of Mayors in the Region supporting the idea of bringing the 2030 Commonwealth Games to the Burlington Hamilton community that included eight other municipalities. Throughout the discussion council members were adamant – not a dime of city money was to be put into the venture.

That’s about price. Bur what about value?

The Games are big business – run successfully they attract the attention of millions to the community and can leave lasting economic and social impacts.  Run badly, well most of us remember Montreal.

As far as the Commonwealth Games franchise is concerned, the 2022 Games recently took place in Birmingham (UK): a second tier UK city living in the shadow of London struggling through hard economic times.  Interim reporting about the value of the Games to Birmingham are now available.  These reports are from reputable organizations, such as global accounting firm KPMG, undertaken on behalf of the UK government.  Those reports highlight the success of the Birmingham event and point up the major benefits of bringing arts and culture together with major sporting events.

Lou Frapporti, former Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Hamilton Bid Group President P J Mercanti checking on how things went at the Birmingham Games in 2022

Birmingham created a six month Festival that enveloped the games and drew an audience of more than 2.4 million and reached more than 41,000 participants.

What Birmingham had was an international calibre event that they leveraged to create the Festival that added £100 million in direct economic impact.

The region-wide Festival worked with 993 organizations, 4,954 creatives and had diversity at its heart, according to independent evaluations.

The Festival successfully enhanced more than eight out of ten residents’ and non-residents’ perceptions of Birmingham.

The Birmingham 2022 Festival, was a six month celebration of creativity that brought not only pride and joy to the city – it gave a dramatic boost to the regional economy.

There are nine independently-produced reports – available here – that evaluate the successes, learnings and impact of the vibrant and dynamic six-month cultural programme. They include the insights and learnings on individual projects and initiatives during the Festival and a commitment to cement Birmingham’s reputation as an international centre of cultural and creative excellence.

Councillor Sharman as Deputy Mayor has responsibility for getting the city’s Strategic Plan updated. The Commonwealth Games is something he will surely include in the long term thinking. City Manager Tim Commisso can ensure that the staff resources needed to make the Games real in 2030

They reveal powerful impacts on communities across the region and how it had diversity at its heart by engaging with a wide range of communities that represent ethnic diversity, gender, LGBTQIA+ and disability identities.

It would be wonderful if the smarter thinkers at city hall dug into the Birmingham successes and learned how they might apply to Burlington in advancing the city’s strategic plan, and then considered whether or not investment was warranted

There is an opportunity here for the City Manager to create a small ( 3 or 4 people) who would work with Anita Cassidy at Economic Development to poke around at the data and the opportunity to see  if closer collaboration with the bid organizers, senior levels of government and neighbouring municipalities is warranted – putting a Burlington perspective on it.

The reports also show a direct economic impact of £100 million to the economy –

A private sector property that is being considered as the locale for some of the 2030 Commonwealth Games events.. King Road at the bottom, Aldershot GO station at the top of the aerial photograph with the GO train tracks on the left and and hwy 403 on the right.

The evaluation shows a total attendance for the Festival Programme of 2,467,588, with 96 per cent of attendees rating their experience as good or excellent, while eight out of ten residents of the region said it had improved their own perceptions of where they live.

The combined workforce was 4,954 including staff and freelancers, with an additional 1,315 volunteers contributing to the Festival.

The Birmingham 2022 Festival successfully engaged 41,894 residents in active arts or cultural activities with the majority of participants directly engaged in an event performance or a creative project, with eight out of ten saying they had either gained new skills or improved skills.

The Festival directly commissioned 34 per cent of the projects while the overwhelming majority (63 per cent) saw more than £1.7 million distributed through the Creative City Grants programme that brought communities together with artists to create work for the Festival – from visual arts through to dance. This helped to take the Festival to people and places who would not normally engage with the arts. The Festival also brought in £47 million directly from tourists.

Raidene Carter, Executive Producer of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, said: “In delivering the Festival as part of a Commonwealth Games, we commissioned a body of work which reflected this wonderful region and shone a light on our creativity and heritage. It showed the true power of bringing arts and culture together with a major sporting event, making the cultural festival and the sporting festival greater than the sum of their parts.

“The Festival was brave enough to have honest conversations about what it means to be a Commonwealth city and region, and this led to welcome challenges we can all learn from as arts and culture-makers, alongside powerful statements about how we want to reflect ourselves to the world.

“Undoubtedly, this has had a positive effect on audiences and participants alike who felt healthier, happier, and closer to their communities and more in touch with the city and wider region.

“There is great insight from the reports for future host cities of both sporting and cultural festivals to digest and learn from …”

Mayor Meed Ward – just signing a letter isn’t going to cut it.

The Brits have a national lottery. Anne Jenkins, Executive Director at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “They were thrilled to award Birmingham 2022 Festival with a £3million grant to support its six-month celebration of culture and heritage.

Would the Ontario Trillium Foundation give some thought to supporting something like this in Burlington?.

Getting the Commonwealth Games to the Burlington Hamilton community with all the benefits that entails is going to take more than signatures on a letter.

It is going to take people who can see just a bit over the horizon and become aware of the huge potential – folks who are focused on value and not just the price  – they did it in Birmingham – not a reason in the world why it couldn’t be done in Burlington.

It will need some political courage and some really creative thinking.







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