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New relationships in post-Olympic Whistler



The Olympics, and the years of preparation for them, brought a lot of people to Whistler for the first time. On an individual level, the Games sparked new relationships with the community and its residents. Exactly what we'd hoped for.

The Olympics have also been the catalyst for three groups that have climbed in significance but whose relationship to Whistler in the post-Games era is not yet defined: the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies and the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

The Squamish and Lil'wat were among the first to recognize the opportunities that came with the Olympics. They established a permanent presence in Whistler through the cultural centre, became significant land developers through the legacies land agreement and created new jobs and new companies to meet the needs of Olympic construction.

The cultural centre debt has apparently been wiped out, through a deal to develop the Baxter Creek lands. But despite glowing reviews for the building and its objectives, the cultural centre has yet to really take off, amongst visitors or residents. The success of the centre can't be measured strictly by revenues or visitor numbers. However, its ranking among the list of things to see and do in Whistler is not as high as it should be.

In addition to Baxter Creek, the Squamish and Lil'wat acquired land and development rights at Function Junction and some land options in the Callaghan Valley. When those lands are developed and what they will become is unclear. But they put the Squamish and Lil'wat in the position of being one of the last large-scale land developers in the Whistler area.

The Olympics brought the Squamish and Lil'wat together and brought the First Nations together with Whistler. In some respects the Games were the catalyst for Squamish and Lil'wat to step beyond the world of the Sea to Sky corridor. How those relationships continue and in what form, remains an open question.

The Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies is "a not-for-profit business that will own and operate three 2010 Winter Games facilities..." Those are the Whistler Sliding Centre, Whistler Olympic Park and the athlete's centre accommodation and training facility in Cheakamus Crossing. WSL2010's mission is "To own and operate its Olympic legacy venues in a manner that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable and that ultimately benefits sport development."

WSL2010 is funded by the Games Operating Trust, a $110 million fund whose annual earnings are split 40:40 between Whistler and Richmond. The remaining 20 per cent is held in contingency.

Each of the Whistler facilities has its challenges. Whistler Olympic Park has been praised for its cross-country skiing facilities and what it adds to the Whistler experience. The ski jumps, however, appear to be white elephants. The two jumps are used only by the highest level of competitors. There is nothing for junior level competitors or for people to learn ski jumping. What WSL2010 does with the multi-million-dollar jumps is one of its first challenges.

The sliding centre will host World Cup events this year, and could become a regular stop on the sliding circuit. There may also be some revenue from selling bobsled rides down the track. How much either activity can offset the cost of operating the track remains to be seen.

However, the sliding centre could also be used for non-sporting events such as concerts, which may sustain the centre financially. As the host and coordinator of such activities and events WSL2010 may come to play a significant role in Whistler. Event management is a job that has been tried by both Tourism Whistler and the RMOW. Neither model proved effective. Perhaps with the athletes' centre in its quiver WSL2010 will take on that responsibility.

The Centre for Sustainability was founded on seed money from the municipality. It is expected to be weaned from that funding in the next year and a half and become self-supporting. But exactly what the centre is remains unclear to most of the community. When approving funding for the centre several years ago one councillor said, "This will put heads in beds, guaranteed." It's not clear that the centre is doing that, or even if that is part of the centre's mandate.

Whistler is grappling with the question of where it goes and how it builds business in the post-Olympic era. Questions that are fundamentally about sustainability. Is this the role, or part of the role of the Centre for Sustainability?

We look forward to seeing these groups step forward and better understanding the roles they will play in the post-Olympic Whistler.

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