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Feature - Six years and counting

One year after being awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics Sea to Sky communities are working quietly to prepare for the biggest event to ever touch the corridor



It was another hard winter for businesses relying on tourism in the Sea to Sky corridor.

There were fewer destination travellers, the Canadian dollar stayed strong, and the conflict in Iraq dragged on.

But the silver lining, said Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, may be that those who questioned why the resort needed to pursue the 2010 Winter Olympic Games may finally be putting their doubts to rest.

"I think a lot of people have come to recognize that our success in the past was never guaranteed," he said.

"(The Olympics) really provides another opportunity for us to showcase what Whistler, Vancouver, and B.C. has to offer as a tourism product, a sporting venue and a cultural arena. We get a chance to tell our story to a world-wide audience and that you could never, ever, ever, purchase."

It’s been a year since the International Olympic Committee announced in Prague on July 2, 2003 that Vancouver and Whistler had won the 2010 Games.

Gone from Village Square are the faces painted with maple leaf flags, the cheering crowds and the eager young athletes waiting to hear if they would get the chance to compete in their home town.

Instead the sound of calculators humming, pencils sketching plans and athletes working out fill the air in B.C.

It’s less than six years to go until the province welcomes up to 250,000 people to watch the Olympics and Paralympics.

For Whistler it’s been a year to consolidate the community sustainability plan and get a handle on how the Games will fit into the strategy.

The Games offer an important opportunity for the community to get long-term resident housing, through the construction of the athletes village, which will likely be located in the Cheakamus south area, near the Whistler landfill.

O’Reilly said one of the goals of the CSP is to keep 75 per cent of the population resident in Whistler. No easy task when the median price of a single family home in the resort is $1.5 million.

"We have 400 people today on a waiting list who have said, ‘no, we prefer to be in restricted housing in Whistler than in a free market situation in another community,’" said O’Reilly.

"That is a huge choice because they are valuing more than just their investment, they are valuing lifestyle quality and opportunity and businesses and who their neighbours are.

"We can’t provide everything for everyone but clearly the community has still said, even with housing restrictions, even though they are not going to make a whack full of money on their housing, that it is important that they live here."