By Alison Taylor
A recent government report is sounding some alarm bells over the budget for the Whistler Olympic Athletes’ Village.
The village, the only Olympic venue the resort municipality is responsible for, is budgeted to cost $130 million. But Acting Auditor General Arn van Iersel is questioning part of that business plan which forms the basis of the budget.
His concerns stem from the five per cent escalation factor built into the village budget over the next four years by the development corporation responsible for construction. That’s significantly less than the 9 per cent escalation the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games estimates for the project.
“The escalation report done for VANOC… shows escalation forecasts for Whistler at an average of 9% — a difference of 4% per year,” wrote van Iersel.
“This could add significant costs to the project for Whistler which would need to be covered (by) either selling more market housing units or asking funding partners for more money.”
But Mayor Ken Melamed said he’s not worried about the budget and it’s escalation figure.
“The only thing we are building for the Games is the athletes’ village,” said Melamed this week. “The budgets are secured for that. We have a lot of comfort, we’ve built our contingencies into that. I’m not worried.”
Melamed said the province has already committed $37.5 million — more than they had originally intended to contribute to the village — and anything beyond that will now will be Whistler’s responsibility.
”It’s very clear to us the province is in for X committed dollars and the balance is the responsibility of Whistler,” he said. “That’s what we signed on to when we made that agreement.”
Melamed said he is comfortable with the five per cent escalation figure used in the budget.
If there is a budget shortfall, he added, Whistler could address that by selling some of the units at market prices. The village budget states that seven serviced free-market lots could be sold on the market for $3.5 million.
“I think it is still the hope of council that we don’t have to add that (market housing),” said the mayor.
Neil Godfrey, the development manager for the athletes’ village, also said the escalation factor shouldn’t be problem. The budget allows for a $12 million contingency, which could make up for any shortfall.
As for the recent request from the International Olympic Committee for an additional 350 beds in the village, the mayor said those discussions have not yet taken place. That request could push the budget up $10 to $20 million.
“We haven’t had those conversations yet,” said the mayor. “We don’t know if we’re going to accept them in the village.”