News » Whistler

The dream has finally come true for Whistler.

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As International Olympic Committee chairman Jacques Rogge announced that the 2010 Winter Games were coming to the resort, more than 5,000 people screamed their approval in Village Square.

Athletes wept with excitement, as did hundreds of bid supporters, volunteers and staff.

"I couldn’t help it I had tears in my eyes for the whole presentation," said Whistler’s Jeff Hume, a speed skier for the national team.

"I will be 30 years old in 2010 and I will be in the prime of my career so I am looking forward to it. I’m going for gold."

Supporters hung out of hotel and condominium windows waving flags and lowering banners as a giant Canadian flag was passed across the heads of thousands gathered in front of a stage and giant TV screen in Whistler’s Village Square.

As the final moments approached a hush fell over the crown. People hugged their neighbours, their children, even their dogs.

"For the 2010 bid staff this dream has been part of our everyday lives for the past two years," said the 2010 Bid Corporation’s director of community relations for Whistler Maureen Douglas.

"For others here today this has been a dream for more than 40 years. It was dream that got Whistler started and it is the reason that brings us here together today."

Garry Watson has been championing Whistler Olympic dream for 42 years.

As the IOC announced the winner his face told the story of his chase for the dream — hope, shock, elation and finally that smile that said ‘at last’.

"I am just ecstatic," said Watson.

"I think it is a matter of pride and we can now demonstrate what we are and what we do. We will put on the best Winter Olympic Games ever."

But there are concerns in the community as well.

Locals, who don’t want to be named in fear of retaliation, are already facing uncertainly over lease renewals for small business and accommodation.

But Whistler Chamber of Commerce president Brent Leigh said solutions are being sought to help.

"…There is nothing in history… that would suggest that you could sustain or maintain or increase rents in anticipation of an Olympics in the future," said Leigh.

"So what we hope is that landlords will examine the medium-term and understand what that means and realize that we are all here for the long-term and affordable rent is an important part of sustaining small business in Whistler."

Hosting the 2010 Winter Games may be seven years away but many in the resort are already getting a head start in planning for the event.

Tourism Whistler has been working for months on a marketing plan to capitalize on the win.

" This will mean an unbelievable injection for our resort for tourism," said Barrett Fisher, acting president for Tourism Whistler minutes after the win was announced.

"The exposure alone will be incredible. In partnership with the businesses here we have the opportunity to take this to the next level like no other resort ever has.

"We have created a tourism strategy to start today. Not in 2007, or 2008, or 2009, but to start today."

Fisher said the resort would also get a boost from being able to use official Olympic logo on their messaging.

"It is going to be that important hook that we need to continue to grow our worldwide recognition," she said.

"To have the Whistler brand be affiliated with the power of the Olympic brand, which is really one of the world’s most recognized brands, clearly puts Whistler on the international stage."

Some argue that Whistler doesn’t need to raise its profile any higher. Fisher would dispute that.

"If you do in market research and you monitor awareness levels of Whistler it is nowhere near where we think it is," she said.

"I would also argue that when you look at the life cycle of Whistler we have been the exciting product that over the last dozen years has garnered strong media attention and excitement.

"But as the life cycle of the brand continues to mature we need an injection of new and exciting news and this will be just that."

Chamber president Leigh agrees.

"We think that we are on the world map but we are really not and this is the sort of thing that does it," he said.

Leigh believes the Olympics can offer the hope of more stable growth for business in the community, but he also has a warning.

"Don’t over-anticipate," said Leigh.

"It is still a long run to the Olympics and we have some tasks to undertake that are not immediate business generators.

"But we already know that the bid process has secured interest and traffic we might not have had.

"In most towns you would be saying, ‘Great. This is a great boost to business."

"But in a town like ours, where we already have a very heated business environment, you want to say, ‘Let’s move forward on a measured positive response.’"

While the battle to host the Games may be over the greatest challenges still lie ahead as the community fights not to be crushed by the Olympic elephant.

Top of the list will be keeping Whistler affordable, sticking to the municipal plan to make the Games as green and sustainable as possible, and getting some financial tools from the provincial government to help the resort.

Concerns have been raised that winning the Games will make the resort even less affordable, sending real estate prices sky high.

However, Ann Chiasson, owner of Windemere Sea to Sky Real Estate believes the impact is more likely to be felt in nearby communities.

"I don’t see a big increase in price in Whistler," she said.

"But in Squamish where they have a hot market I see the potential as huge.

"People around the world are used to driving 45 minutes to an hour to go skiing."

Chiasson believes the win will give credibility to the multi-million dollar prices currently asked for homes in the resort.

If the new organizing committee confirms all the legacies promised to the resort in return for its support Whistler will benefit significantly.

A new Nordic Centre, 13 km south of the village, will draw enthusiasts from around the world, a new multi purpose complex on Lot 1/9 could house businesses and draw more convention trade, and unparalleled publicity will raise the resorts’ profile to a new level.

The provincial and federal governments have already committed $20 million to the new complex but Whistler would have to raise another $20 million to complete it.

One of the greatest legacies of the bid process was a landbank given to the municipality by the provincial government. The municipality would have received the landbank even if the resort had lost the Games.

The landbank will accommodate the Olympic Athletes’ Village and it will also be the area developed for employee-restricted housing in the future.

For the rest of the year, the community will go through a consultation process to decide if they want the village at the Bid’s preferred site, the entrance to the Callaghan Valley, or closer to town.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly is confident that the municipality will get what it wants.

"All the skill that we have achieved in developing this resort we have applied to the bid process and that is why I have such a high degree of comfort that not only will it be great for our community, it will be great for B.C. and Canada," he said.

Whistler-Blackcomb, which provides housing for thousands of employees, is also looking forward to the development of the landbank.

"From a community perspective I am really excited about the legacy lands and the ability to truly create some more employee housing opportunities," said Dave Brownlie, senior vice-president of finance for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"It is the people who live and work here who really make it tick and we need to support that over the long term."

Whistler-Blackcomb will also be getting a number of upgrades to runs, snowmaking and lifts in preparation for the Games.

The Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton facility (The Whistler Sliding Centre) will also be built on Blackcomb and run with an endowment fund after the Games.

Both the Sliding Centre and the Nordic Centre will be run by a Legacies Society, which will own and operate the facilities.

Construction of the Nordic Centre won’t begin before 2005. But the plans are already looking beyond the Games themselves and into the future.

Currently both the Squamish Nation and the Lil’Wat Nation claim the Callaghan as traditional territory. Both have signed an agreement with the government giving them certain rights and access to funding as part of the deal for putting the Nordic Centre in the Callaghan.

Both Nations will play a crucial role in its development post Games.

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob sees the Games as a great opportunity for the youth. Sixty to 70 per cent of the Squamish people are under 30 and Jacob hopes the Games will provide employment and inspiration for them.

"We have to give our youth a look at what the best of the world has to offer," said Jacob.

"We have a lot of world class potential in our community. "

Jacob would love to see First Nations youth on the podiums in 2010 as well.

"I would love to see that before I go to meet my ancestors," he said.

Squamish and Lil’Wat are also looking at plans for a cultural centre in the Callaghan and perhaps even a golf course.

Both groups will be partners in the organization formed after the Games to manage and run the legacies.

Recently elected Mount Currie Chief Leonard Andrew admits to feeling torn when he heard that Whistler and Vancouver had won the Games.

His community is divided on whether this is an event they want to be involved in.

However, the Lil’Wat have already signed agreements Andrew believes are binding, outlining the legacies the Nation will get from the Games.

Mount Currie is to hold a General Assembly, said Leonard, where the people will explore the Nations future involvement with the Games.

"We will bring it up with our people then and we will decide what type of participation we will hold, I guess," said Andrew.

"It is confusing to a lot of people… What are we in for if we are involved with this?"

Whistler will host the Alpine events, the Nordic events, and the Bobsled and Luge. All medals in those events will also be handed out in Whistler at a purpose-built temporary facility.

In the short term Whistler will change little as the preparation for the Games begins.

The only on-going disruption is the significant roadwork being done to upgrade the Sea to Sky Highway. More than $600 million will be spent to speed up and smooth out the trip to the resort.

And that spells lengthy delays for years and years.