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Setting sights on Olympic legacy land bank

WDC to begin long-range strategic plan for Olympic lands

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Four years after the 2010 Games, Whistler's athletes' village development is all but complete, and yet it sits on just a fraction of the legacy lands left to Whistler from the Olympics.

True, there's still some debt and a handful of market housing left to sell at the athletes' village, some development parcels too — the lingering leftovers of the $164 million development.

But with just 35 acres of a 300-acre "land bank" developed — Crown land transferred into the municipality's hands in the lead up to the Games — Whistler is now turning its mind to the rest.

"It's all about the legacy," said Eric Martin, chair of the board of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC), the organization charged with building the village and selling the housing post-Games. Martin spoke to Pique before a presentation to council Tuesday evening.

"I think we sometimes forget the extent of the legacy, and the opportunities afforded by the legacy, and why we all did it and where we stand."

Martin spoke about the future of the legacy lands and the need for Whistler to turn its mind to a new strategic plan for the long-term future, thinking beyond the next two to five years.

While Whistler's housing pressures have eased in recent years, in no small part due to the athletes' village development, Councillor John Grills noted that this year has seen a tightening in the marketplace.

"I think the timing's perfect," he said, of the planning exercise.

The lands are primarily located in the Cheakamus Crossing area, but there are smaller parcels in Alpine and in Kadenwood.

"We have never really focused on it at all because that wasn't really our mandate, but it is part of the Olympic deal," said Martin.

"We're looking at next steps in terms of where WDC goes, what mandate it should have, whether it's the right vehicle to continue on, but more importantly what are the opportunities and challenges and so on that we need to be aware of."

There are some restrictions associated with the land bank. At the athletes' village, for example, there is roughly 10 per cent of market housing in the primarily employee housing neighbourhood. That market housing is sold to offset the costs of the employee housing, which cannot appreciate at the same rate as the free market.

"There's a proviso (on the land) that any... surplus revenue that is generated goes to debt first and then secondly into a reserve fund for resident restricted housing," explained Martin.

The WDC's athletes' village debt sits at roughly $16 million, money borrowed from the municipal reserves. But the $100 million borrowed from the Municipal Finance Authority has since been paid back.

There are six market lots from nine left to sell at Madeley Place, and five or six development parcels. The sale of those, targeted over the next two to five years, is expected to pay off the remaining debt.

One commercial unit is empty; two have been sold, and another recently leased for a new daycare space.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden thanked Martin for his work on the WDC, for which he gets paid $1 per year. Martin, who spent his career in development working for Bosa, has been heavily involved in several Whistler projects, including the Meadow Park Sports Centre, and has volunteered his time for the past decade on WDC.

"We're getting our money's worth," said the mayor.

Martin joked: "You get what you pay for."

He said he would like to develop a vision plan in the next quarter and bring it back to council in the spring. He would like to engage the community in the process too.

"I think people have forgotten that there's a legacy... Let's not forget."

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