Gap closing on annual costs to maintain Olympic venues 

Facilities cost $7.7 million to run in last fiscal year

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - bring it out Loader operator Jim Hornby moves the stored snow at Whistler Olympic Park, which has been under the cover of sawdust all summer, in preparation of early season training.
  • photo submitted
  • bring it out Loader operator Jim Hornby moves the stored snow at Whistler Olympic Park, which has been under the cover of sawdust all summer, in preparation of early season training.

The financial gap is narrowing on the cost to maintain and operate Whistler's Olympic legacies, yet the spectre of keeping these multi-million-dollar venues alive with capital improvements in the long term is never far away from Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) CEO and president Roger Soane's mind.

"My biggest concern moving forward is the rolling stock," said Soane, of the snow cats and loaders and other machinery needed to maintain the venues.

"We live in quite a harsh environment," he added. "We can't operate without them."

The organization spent $1.4 million on capital improvements this year including a new bus, new snow moving equipment for Whistler Olympic Park (WOP) and new storage space there.

That is over and above the $7.7 million in annual costs to run the organization.

WSL is not yet breaking even in its year-to-year operations, but every year since the transition from VANOC (the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee), which built the venues, it has seen improvements.

In its recently released annual report, WSL outlined a $251,000 loss on its statement of revenues and expenses. That's down significantly from the $650,000 loss reported last year.

The annual report covers the time from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014.

Soane said he was pleased with the financial record "considering we had a shaky start to the winter."

That slow start impacted operations at Whistler Olympic Park, which brought in $1.3 million this year and cost $2.3 million to run.

It's the same story at the Whistler Sliding Centre — $1.1 million in revenue and almost $2.4 million to run.

The Whistler Athletes' Centre was also unable to break even, but almost made it into the black this year — $1.1 million in expenses versus $1.075 million in revenues.

The year-round occupancy at the centre was 37 per cent.

"My goal is 65 per cent," said Soane. "We need to get that message out to sport."

It costs a further $1.37 million to run the administration of the organization.

Soane reiterated the venues were always expected to need help to run. That's why the $110 million Games Operating Trust (GOT) Fund was created. This year WSL received $3.6 million from the GOT — $2.27 million for its 40 per cent share (the Richmond Oval gets 40 per cent too) and $1.3 million from the contingency.

They have asked for that full contingency amount again this year.

The statements also detail multi-million dollar contributions — a one-off release of funding from VANOC to the tune of $2.8 million and a further $1.1 million from the B.C. government in the form of the three-year transition grant.

That $4 million in contribution sits in the bank. It was used to pay off this year's operating shortfall, but Soane has his eye on that money for future years.

"We are somewhat of an anomaly because we are a freestanding organization," said Soane, adding that they have no guaranteed financial backstop.

"We have to be very careful with our money."

Despite concerns about paying for future upgrades, there is progress in the short-term, particularly with an increase in corporate venue rental — 165 per cent at WOP and 157 per cent at the sliding centre.

This non-traditional use, from things like the Tough Mudder event and weddings and corporate groups, accounts for 15 per cent of WOP revenue and nine per cent of sliding centre revenue.

Meanwhile, work is underway preparing the venues for the winter. At WOP, staff began to spread snow from the snow storage Tuesday to provide some opportunities for early season cross-country training.

They expect to be able to lay 800 to 1,000 metres of track.



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