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Athletes village construction schedule pushed back

Whistler's partners need to approve business plan



The construction schedule for the athletes village has been pushed back because there is still no confirmation of the business plan from Whistler’s Olympic partners.

"We’re redoing the schedule as we speak and we’re hoping that the schedule will work for us," said Jim Godfrey, Whistler’s Olympic negotiator.

He added that there are "very meaningful discussions" with the province right now and he expects an announcement on the business plan will be made within the next 30 days.

The municipality had hoped for provincial approval of the plan, which outlines the funding shortfalls for the village and ways to meet those shortfalls, by mid-May but no response has been forthcoming to date. Approval by that time could have seen the municipality on the site for servicing work by June 1, after community consultation in the later half of May.

Each month the project is delayed, construction costs escalate.

Terry Wright, senior vice president, Service Operations and Ceremonies for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games, said via an e-mail to Pique Newsmagazine that site clearing is still expected to take place next month as planned.

"We expect the initial clearing for the athletes village to begin in the month of June as long as we have approval to move ahead within the next 30 days," he wrote. "We believe we will be able to fulfill our summer schedule objective within this timetable."

Reached in Victoria Tuesday Colin Hansen, the minister responsible for the 2010 Olympic Games, confirmed that the province is looking to give Whistler a formal answer within 30 days.

The details of the business plan and Whistler’s proposal for the funding shortfall are still confidential as negotiations continue. Hansen said he was not privy to the plan.

When asked what the holdup was for provincial approval, he said:

"Well it’s not really a holdup. I think there’s a lot of issues that need to be worked through that involve several parties. VANOC of course, has the understanding with Whistler in terms of what’s needed from the Olympics perspective. The province has a role to play when it comes to providing some of the venue costs, as does the federal government. With the different parties that are all part and parcel of this, we need to make sure that we move the file forward.

"We’re just one of the partners in this arrangement. But I do expect that we’ll be able to give Whistler some clear sense of the partnership role that the province is prepared to play (fairly soon)."

Whistler’s athletes village is to become employee-restricted housing post 2010. There is approximately $45 million on hand from VANOC for the village and associated buildings.

That’s in 2002 dollars. The real cost to build the village is not clear. When asked how much the funding shortfall was for the village, the minister said: "It’s not actually a precise number. I think a lot of it is a process of – how do we get to a position where Whistler is able to make a decision to green light it."

When asked whether that means the province would like Whistler to build market housing to offset the costs, Hansen said: "No. I think what we’ve said is that there is a commitment of financial resources coming through VANOC from the province and the federal government. The onus is on the municipality to make sure that they’ve got all their revenue sources in place to make it viable."

He did say that he didn’t believe a temporary trailer park was a possibility, which is VANOC’s fallback plan if Whistler decides there isn’t enough money to build a permanent village.

"I don’t see that as a realistic option," said Hansen.

This week Acting Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said Whistler was feeling as though a resolution would be reached sooner rather than later.

"We’re feeling quite optimistic and not unrealistically optimistic," she said.

"If it takes 30 days I’ll be surprised."

The village will be nestled in the Lower Cheakamus, adjacent to the town’s former landfill. It is Crown land which is set to revert to the municipality for employee housing as per Whistler’s legacy agreement.

When asked why the municipality doesn’t just start clearing the land in June in preparation for plan’s approval, Wilhelm-Morden said Whistler won’t move the rezoning bylaws forward without taking the business plan to the community for feedback. There will be a public hearing before third reading of the bylaws.

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