Opinion » Editorial


About those Olympic legacies



Nearly three years ago, when several hundred Whistlerites turned out for a special council meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to voice their opinions on being part of the Olympic bid, and then to hear council members vote 6-1 to officially endorse the bid, some of the benefits of hosting the Games were listed. Among the legacies Whistler could expect, regardless of whether the bid was successful or not, were financial tools, a boundary expansion and 300 acres of land for affordable housing. If the bid was successful Whistler would also gain several Olympic and Paralympic facilities, including a Nordic centre, a bobsleigh track and an ice arena.

Two years ago this Saturday, of course, IOC members voted to award the 2010 Games to Vancouver and Whistler. Since then more of the details of hosting the Olympics have come to light as some decisions have been made and work has commenced. But some of the Olympic legacies Whistler was anticipating have not. The boundary expansion and financial tools may not be dead but neither have they been granted. And now there are signs Whistler may forfeit the ice arena that is needed to host the Paralympics.

The Paralympics, which will be held in March of 2010, will be based in Whistler; no events are planned for Vancouver. The ice arena, which will host Paralympic sledgehockey and must have capacity for 3,500-5,000 spectators, will be built in the Sea to Sky corridor, but exactly where has yet to be determined. An official with the Vancouver Organizing Committee said recently the arena is Whistler’s to lose. Whistler must make up its mind by the end of July.

Why would Whistler even hesitate about accepting this facility? To begin with it’s not a completed facility VANOC is offering, it’s $20 million toward an arena. In a town where fire halls cost $3 million and a library $10 million, $20 million isn’t going to build a 5,000-capacity arena, even when the land is not part of the cost.

Second, three sites are generally understood to be under consideration: Lots 1 and 9 in the village; at Meadow Park next to the existing arena; and in the vicinity of the athletes village next to the Cheakamus River. The cost of building on Lots 1 and 9 is prohibitive. Even though Lot 1 was given to the municipality and always intended for a cultural or sports centre, the cost of building something that meets village design guidelines would be enormous. As well, some people now value the small forest on the lots more highly than an arena.

The Meadow Park site, like Lots 1 and 9 and Spruce Grove Park, is composed of soil deposited from a river; it’s not solid ground and to build a stable foundation on it would be costly.