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Whistler Olympic organizer gets look at 2006 Winter Olympics preparations

It’s spit and polish time for Torino, host of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

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"There is a lot of cleaning going on and that all has to be done by hand," said Maureen Douglas, the director of community relations Whistler for the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

"No pressure washers can be used as the buildings are too delicate.

But the cleaning, the dressing up, the finishing of the venues, all of that is taking place right now.

"In downtown it’s about brushing the dust off and getting things ready to go."

Douglas has just returned from a weeklong visit to Torino where she and other representatives of Vancouver stakeholder groups met with officials of the Italian city and organizers of the 2006 Games to trade ideas.

Torino is inviting cities from all over the world which are hosting Olympics or interested in doing so to trade information about opportunities for urban development.

"Torino is using the Games as part of an overall plan of significant urban renewal, transitioning from a heavily industry based economy into one where I think they will see more focus on culture, education, and tourism," said Douglas.

"There are some challenges there for them, but it is also a bit of a hidden jewel, and I think what we discovered was that there is a way richer cultural, architectural, and artistic life in Torino than people understand at first."

Douglas pointed to the reinvention of the old Fiat car plant into a hotel, conference centre, and mall. The Vancouver group chose to stay there to see urban renewal up close.

"It was amazing," said Douglas adding that the centre will be converted into the international broadcast centre and main press area for the 2006 Games.

The city is moving at a frantic pace of change with whole neighbourhoods being re-created. For Douglas it was reminder of the opportunities an Olympics provides to its hosts.

"The Olympics are turning into triggers for significant social change in the region in which they are held," said Douglas.

Venue construction continues in Torino though Douglas said it is on time for the most part as the Torino Organizing Committee set later deadlines than VANOC is setting.

Vancouver and Whistler are aiming to have venues operational about two years out so they can be used for training and test events well ahead of the Games.

The trip was also a chance for TOROC to share information about what plans were working and what plans were not.

One challenge that is ongoing is accommodation. TOROC chose to out-source the work, while VANOC is keeping accommodation in-house.

But information sharing between all stakeholders has worked very well.

"You really have to make sure that everyone who is either a partner, or a stakeholder, or impacted community, or venue that you are always in communication with them and they stay part of it because together you create better ideas and solve problems," said Douglas.

Of the trip Douglas had this to say: "I think it was really beneficial to see a city getting ready, and to see the mountain venues getting ready. It is very beneficial for those of us who are going to have to go through the transformation."

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