Opinion » Editorial


Can you imagine?



The first slogan when Vancouver and Whistler began considering a bid for the 2010 Olympics back in the late ’90s was "Can you imagine."

Now imagine for a moment that on July 2, 2003 the 2010 Winter Olympics had been awarded to Salzburg and Kitzbühel, rather than Vancouver and Whistler.

Over in Austria they’d be humming Mozart tunes as they polished up the baroque architecture and fumigated the Londoner Pub in preparation for the Games and another demonstration of Austria’s superiority in alpine skiing.

Back here, things would be a little different than they are. Perhaps the first change we’d notice would be the Sea to Sky Highway construction: we’d still be talking about it rather than doing it. Also, there wouldn’t be as many mega-projects going on in the Lower Mainland and around the province, and therefore there might not be quite the same labour crunch and skyrocketing construction costs, although even more people in the construction business would probably be moving to Alberta.

And we in Whistler – all of us – might be a little more active in planning our future, rather than waiting for it to unfold. After five years of steady decline in business, and one winter with excellent snow, we’d all be a little more worried and perhaps more vocal in our concerns. We might be setting some targets and goals, and we’d probably have a public discussion about it so we all knew how we planned to go about hitting those targets.

With Intrawest’s future being batted around like a ping pong ball by financial analysts, there might be some concern about ownership of Whistler-Blackcomb. And the idea of the community buying into the corporation’s local asset might be a real topic of discussion in Whistler.

Rather than looking at another hotel going up in Creekside, and another subdivision being built across the highway from Function Junction, we might take a closer look at protecting what we’ve already invested in, things like the village as the commercial centre of the town. Without the Olympics, we might have begun looking at lots 1 and 9 much earlier and considered how they could be developed in a way that supports the village as a gathering place for residents and visitors. We are doing that now, and thanks to the Olympics have $20 million to help make it happen, but it is a discussion that should have happened a couple of years ago.

If the 2010 Games were in Austria, instead of messing about with an athletes village that we don’t seem to be able to afford to build we might have put more urgency into developing other resident-restricted housing projects in the past 18 months. And with the black hole of Alberta sucking in Canadians (17,000 people from all corners of Canada moved to Alberta in the last quarter of 2005, compared to B.C.’s net loss of 869 people in the same quarter) affordable housing may be more critical than ever to securing employees next winter.

Without the Olympics on the horizon there may have been more urgency in getting Events Whistler up and running back when it was still known as the Whistler Events Bureau. What exactly Women’s Week, Wellness Week, Weetama and other W-themed events mean to business in Whistler might be better understood by all of us.

Rather than waiting for Victoria to come through on a promise of new financial tools – something that was supposed to happen whether we won the right to host the Games or not – we might have moved on to exploring some other course of action to ensure the municipality remains solvent.

And if the Olympic Games were being held in Austria in four years time there wouldn’t be as many people in Whistler thinking 2010 was an opportunity to cash out.

Instead, we might have a town hall meeting to bring people together, discuss these problems, assess the urgency of the situation, formulate an action plan, and try to get everyone to buy into the program. Keep the herd moving roughly west, as they used to say.

When Vancouver and Whistler were awarded the Olympics in 2003 many thought it would give us a focus for the next six and a half years, and Whistler could take advantage of new opportunities that come with being an Olympic host community. There still are opportunities, but instead of seeking them out and melding them into long-term plans we seem to be focused on problems that have to be overcome in preparing for the Games.

February 2010 is marked on everyone’s calendar, but some have it circled as an exit date, some as a deadline to get things done, and some as the day salvation is supposed to arrive. February 2010 is going to arrive, but individually and collectively we have to figure out whether the Olympics are a distraction or an opportunity. We can’t wait until March 2010 and then do a post-Games analysis to decide.

Meanwhile the Austrian ski team knows where it will be as it prepares for the Games in 2010: at Sun Peaks, where that resort has a five-year contract to host the team.

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