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Financial tools to help fund village

Business plan paints a "break-even" picture for athletes village



The resort municipality will contribute $11 million to Whistler’s Olympic athletes village, according to the long-awaited business plan recently made public.

The bulk of Whistler’s funding, $8 million, will come from its new financial tools – a percentage of the hotel tax collected on all hotel rooms in the resort. Earlier this month the Province delivered its long-promised financials tools to the resort by increasing Whistler’s share of the hotel tax from two per cent to six per cent, enabling the resort to contribute to the athlete’s village.

"We wouldn’t have been able to make that contribution (to the athletes village) if the Province hadn’t agreed to the new financial tools," said Mayor Ken Melamed at the athletes village open house on Thursday, June 15, where the business plan was made public.

The new tools mean Whistler, which collected less than $3 million in hotel tax last year, could collect as much as $9 million in 2007 based on how many room nights are sold in the resort.

And while hotel tax money traditionally has been spent on promoting tourism with initiatives such as the village flower baskets and marketing initiatives from Tourism Whistler, the Province will now allow the new monies to be spent on things such as employee housing and the athletes village.

To the mayor, Whistler’s contribution is good news because it helps close the gap on the funding shortfalls, which have been plaguing the athletes village.

"It does impact (the municipal budget) in the sense that we’ll have to reduce that contribution to the resort as a whole until we finish making the (athletes village) contribution… but we think this is phenomenal news because that $6 million a year (in extra funding) is forever so it allows us to do long term financial planning knowing that the money is coming and we can budget in the long term," said the mayor.

Roughly 50 people were on hand at the open house to learn more about Whistler’s athletes village and legacy neighbourhood in the south end of town.

Richard Klinkhamer of Whistler Forest Products attended the meeting to learn about the design of the buildings, which will house nearly 2,500 athletes and officials in 2010 and then transform into more than 250 homes for locals.

When asked about the new financial tools paying for part of the village, Klinkhamer didn’t see a problem in the resort adding an $8 million share.

"Pulling off the Olympics properly is going to promote tourism because it’s going to be a lot of exposure (for Whistler) and having a decent set up for the Olympians to stay in is going to (be) a good reflection also," he said.

"In the long run (the new financial tools are) going to add up to be a lot of money."

The cost of the Olympics to taxpayers was on the mind of Whistlerite Peter Alder at Thursday’s meeting.

"How much is it going to cost the taxpayers of Whistler if everything goes right? How much is it going to cost the taxpayers of Whistler is everything goes wrong?" he asked.

The answer, said Jim Moodie, who is a board member of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC), was that there are no guarantees. The WDC is the municipal arm charged with delivering the village

"There’s some risk in this business," he said. "We think this (the athletes village) is a good exercise for the municipality to get into."

The business plan revealed for the first time in detail how the WDC will pay for the $131 million development, which will turn into a legacy neighbourhood post-Games.

The plan, which paints a "break-even" scenario, has Whistler adding another $3 million in Works and Services charges, which the WDC will not have to pay.

In addition, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games has upped its initial budget of $26 million to $35.5 million, a portion of which will be used to clear the site for the Whistler Athletes Centre, a high performance legacy athletes facility.

Another change in the plan to allows the WDC to sell seven serviced market lots on the site. Those lots are projected to generate more than $4 million in revenue for the development corporation.

The bulk of the revenue however will be generated by the sale of the homes to local residents.

The public hearing on the development will take place tonight, Thursday, June 22 at MY Millennium Place.

Council can consider third reading of the bylaws.

Work can also begin on the site once the bylaws are approved as well as having all environmental approvals in place.