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Bennett to guide future of 2010 legacies amid money crunch

Value of trust fund decline not made public yet



One of Whistler's longest serving municipal employees will be overseeing the future of its 2010 legacies.

Keith Bennett, general manager of resort experience, is now the first president and chief executive officer of the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies (WSL2010), which will own and manage the 2010 venues after the Games.

He takes the helm of the organization at a time when the money to operate the Whistler venues could be getting tighter as its trust fund declines in value amid the current economic climate.

"It definitely makes it more challenging," said Bennett this week. "Just how challenging, we don't know yet."

Bennett, who has been involved in the venues' legacies from the outset, is well aware just how critical it is to manage the Whistler Sliding Centre, the Whistler Olympic Park and the Whistler Athletes' Centre. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into Whistler to create these three venues for the Games. Their future was billed as a key legacy to the resort following the Games, expected to not only enhance its tourism offering but also promote sport.

"These venues are incredibly important to Whistler and they are very important to the future of Whistler," he said.

Though the business plans for the three venues have never been made public, the mission of the WSL2010 is to advance high performance sport in Whistler as well as recreational sport participation.

That mission is to be accomplished in a way that ensures economic sustainability.

Paul Shore, in marketing and business development for the WSL2010, confirmed that the sliding centre and the Nordic centre combined cost in the range of $2.5 million to operate annually. The Whistler Athletes' Centre, on the other hand, is self-funded through rental of the High Performance Centre and the related housing.

"We're looking at each (venue) to be standing on its own financially," said Shore.

In addition to funding coming from the $110 million Games Operating Trust fund, the business plans call for revenues to flow from operations. Shore points to possible evening apr├Ęs ski sliding sessions at the track and corporate event hosting at both venues as some of the ways to bring revenue.

If the revenues don't meet the operational budget, however, the WSL2010 will have to make some tough decisions about the future of the venues.

"It's a complex analysis," said Shore. "We are looking at what those trade offs will be."

When asked if they will need more money from other sources, Bennett said: "I would suspect we probably will... We'll need to find more money."

Like most other investment funds, the GOT fund has not been immune to losses in recent months. The exact amount of those losses will not be available until the board receives its 2008 audited financial statements at the end of May.

"(The fund) is down," said Lisa Landry, the municipality's manager of economic viability, who is Whistler's representative on the GOT board.

The GOT fund is divided equally, with 40 per cent going to the Richmond Speed Skating Oval and 40 per cent going to the sliding centre and the Nordic centre. The remaining 20 per cent goes into a contingency fund.

With his 30 years in Whistler, Bennett's experience and commitment to the resort community fits well with the job of promoting the 2010 venues.

"Keith is a community leader who is deeply committed to the Sea to Sky region and to sport development," said Bill France, WSL2010 board chairman and WinSport Canada VP of sport. "We are very fortunate to have him become our President and CEO, and are confident that he is an ideal fit to lead Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies into the era beyond the 2010 Games and to advance the strategic objectives of the organization."

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