Opinion » Editorial


Athletes’ village more complex than it appears



In the previous century, when the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics was born, the first plan for the Whistler athletes’ village was to use three existing hotels in the village, located close to Whistler Mountain, that could be cordoned off and secured. Of course, this was pre-9/11 and the word “security” was still associated with blankets or lock and key companies.

Terry Wright, one of the senior people in the bid corp., a veteran of Expo 86 and previous international Games, and now a senior VP with VANOC, used to talk about coming to understand Whistler and its limits on development. He said it took some time for him and others to realize that a simple solution like building a new athletes’ village on raw land in Whistler didn’t mesh with the community’s plans.

But all that was in the early days, when the main obstacles to overcome were bids from Quebec City and Calgary. Once that hurdle was cleared the bid was analyzed in more detail and it became obvious hotels in the village couldn’t be used for the athletes’ village.

So an athletes’ village would have to be built from scratch somewhere in Whistler. Several sites were considered. The Callaghan valley was a favourite of some, while Rainbow and the Cheakamus area were also evaluated by VANOC. Eventually the people of Whistler decided, wisely, that the Cheakamus area made more sense than the Callaghan.

One of the incentives for Whistler to build an athletes’ village — part of Whistler’s Olympic legacy — was the provincial government’s promise of 300 acres of Crown land, which could only be used for resident-restricted housing. Some of that 300 acres is what the athletes’ village is now being built on. By the summer of 2010 most of that village will be turned over to the municipality and become resident-restricted housing. A simple, clean solution to one of Whistler’s long-standing problems. But how we get from here to there in the next three years is a little more complex.

The municipality’s draft five-year financial plan for 2007-2011 states of the athletes’ village: “The entire project is expected to cost about $130 million with VANOC providing $36 million in 2007. The municipality will finance the balance of the development with short-term construction loans starting in 2008. The expectation is that in 2007 this construction will have no impact on the municipality’s debt level.”

So the province has provided the land, VANOC is putting up the first money to get started, and the municipality, through its Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, is going to work with private developers to get the project done. It’s these deals with developers that may prove interesting.

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