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olympic meeting

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There may not have been too many opinions changed, but there was some sense of vindication Saturday as Whistlerites were finally presented with a public forum to voice their opinions and ask questions about the 2010 Olympic bid. It was difficult to tell whether the majority of the approximately 300 people gathered in the conference centre were for or against the Olympic bid, although nearly everyone would like more information. Most sought assurances that a successful Olympic bid wouldn’t increase Whistler’s planned development or add to the tax burden. Following presentations by members of the board of directors of the bid corporation and roundtable discussions, members of the public were invited to ask the board members questions. Jayson Faulkner began by saying businesses in Park City, Utah, host to the skiing events of the 2002 Winter Olympics, are now being squeezed by chain stores and landlords seeking rent increases. Faulkner said support in Park City for the Games was originally very strong, but has since weakened. "Whistler is already busy, how are the Olympics going to improve Whistler?" Faulkner asked. "And when do we as a community get to decide if we want the Olympics?" Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak replied that market research shows awareness of Whistler is not as high as Whistlerites seem to think. She said the Olympics would be an opportunity to promote Whistler as a year-round resort, and with a year-round occupancy rate of just over 50 per cent there is still lots of room for growth. Denbak also pointed out that the growth Whistler has had in recent years is not guaranteed to continue. "The exchange rates may change, the booming economies in the United States and Britain may falter," Denbak said. "In a community based on tourism, we owe it to future generations to step up to the plate and take our chance." Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly suggested Whistler has a responsibility to the rest of the province to do the best that it can, to help tourism across B.C. "Before the community says yes or no, we need to put some meat on the bones of the bid," O’Reilly agreed. "But the bid will be submitted before or around the time of the next municipal election. It could be a referendum question, but Whistler will vote through its silence (if it doesn’t want the Games), and there’s no way we can win internationally if we don’t demonstrate community support." O’Reilly said development of the Olympic bid is going to be a fluid process, but Whistler has many of the principles and values it wants to maintain documented in things like the environmental strategy, the Vision document and the official community plan. Those values and principles have also been made clear to the rest of the bid corporation and its board of directors, O’Reilly said. "The final card lies in your hands. Without overwhelming community support we won’t win." Paul Burrows suggested the pressure of hosting the Olympics could "blow Whistler out of the water" long before 2010. "Can you imagine the housing costs, the transportation system, the jobs vacant, the taxes?" Burrows, borrowing the Olympic bid corporation’s slogan, asked. Small Business and Tourism Minister Ian Waddell replied that Burrows should look at the situations facing towns like Tumbler Ridge and Gold River. "Other towns would die to have this opportunity," Waddell said. The provincial government representative on the Olympic bid board added he thinks transportation improvements for the Sea to Sky Corridor are "inevitable, and I think the Games will help make it happen." Waddell also took time to remember Squamish Chief Joe Mathias, who passed away the day prior to the Whistler meeting. Mathias was also a member of the board of directors of the 2010 Bid Corporation. Several written questions were also submitted, but there wasn’t time to answer them at the meeting. The questions will be categorized and answers provided in a newsletter that will be mailed out in the next couple of weeks. Anyone who registered at Saturday’s meeting will be on the mailing list. Anyone who would like to be added to the mailing list can do so by faxing their name and mailing address to the bid corporation offices at 905-2448.

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