The municipality is heaving a sigh of relief after getting a verbal commitment from the province for more money and help with financing to build the resort’s Athlete’s Village for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
And the news couldn’t come at a better time with the International Olympic Coordination Commission for the 2010 Games touring venue sites this week.
"It is great news," said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.
The resort has been waiting for months to get the go-ahead on its business plan for the athletes village at the south end of the resort from the province.
Early on in the planning it became clear that rising costs would mean that it couldn’t be built for the $45.5 million coming from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games.
That total includes $26 million for the village, $13 million for the athlete centre (a training facility and accommodation dedicated to athlete development), and $6.5 million for First Nations housing.
The verbal agreement includes an extra $9.5 million in funding to be split between the federal and provincial governments.
Of that, $5 million will go toward the village portion, and $4.5 million will go to pay for servicing for the athlete centre – money that was never figured in the original cost for the facility by VANOC.
The money is to come out of the $110 million VANOC recently requested from the federal and provincial governments in extra funding for venue construction. The increased funding was needed to offset the increase in the cost of construction since VANOC put in its bid for the Games, which was in 2002 dollars.
VANOC is still waiting to hear whether the money is coming.
The verbal agreement between the RMOW and the provincial government also gives the go-ahead to build and sell some market housing on land given to them by the province, a greater share of the hotel tax, and low interest financing through a provincial agency for construction.
The resort has already scheduled a public meeting on the plans for the village, which will become employee restricted housing after the Games, as well as the legally required public hearing. The open house will be held June 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Millennium Place. The public hearing will be at the same venue on June 22 starting at 7 p.m.
Melamed admits it is unusual for the municipality to go ahead with these meetings based on a verbal agreement but he said time was running out on getting the village built on time if construction didn’t start this July. Originally the site preparation was to begin in May.
"We have been given verbal assurance that the written assurance is coming but we can’t really afford to wait any longer," he said.
"We are kind of going out on limb and doing something that is out of the norm. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t feel it was urgent. We can’t afford to wait anymore."
Eric Martin, chair of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation which was formed to get the village built, said the Board recommended that council and staff move ahead with the public hearing despite the lack of the formal letter of agreement from the province.
"It was our consensus that we should (hold a public hearing) because we have been holding off, and holding off and didn’t want to lose any more time," said Martin.
"We had a bit of slack time, maybe three months. But I think we have used it up. We don’t have any left. We can’t miss this construction season, that is a really big concern and we need to get going.
"So I am incredibly pleased and relieved we have got the commitments."
The project, slated to cost in the $150 million range, will have about 350 units altogether. About 250 units will be built to house the 2,400 athletes and officials and then turned into restricted housing. Another 80-100 units will be within the athlete centre.
Currently it is expected that the average price for the restricted housing available will be $230 per square foot.
Scrubbing and clearing is set to start next month. Over the summer contracts will be offered for the site preparation, which will take place between August and November. Vertical building will start next year and will likely be completed in phases since VANOC is interested in accessing some units in 2008.
The project must be completed by late summer of 2009.
Martin, while aware of the crunch on the construction industry, hopes to access as many local companies for the work as possible.
Whistler 2020 also plans to break the construction into phases to help spread the work out.
"Sure I think it is a challenge and we shouldn’t take anything for granted," said Martin.
"But if we are mindful of good planning, making sure we are thinking ahead, and starting early rather than later, then I think it will be manageable. I don’t think it will be easy, but I think it will be manageable."