What can Whistler Olympic Park offer for summertime fun? 

Legacies Society gets biggest disbursement yet from endowment fund

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/TOURISM WHISTLER - Whistler Olympic Park comes alive in the summer with Tough Mudder. Could an endurance course entice more visitors throughout the summer months?
  • Photo by Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler
  • Whistler Olympic Park comes alive in the summer with Tough Mudder. Could an endurance course entice more visitors throughout the summer months?

The Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society (WSL) is looking into the untapped summertime potential in the Callaghan Valley Olympic venue after a challenging winter season.

In June, WSL received a $3.9 million disbursement from the 2010 Games Operating Trust Society (GOT), the endowment fund set up to keep Olympic sport venues afloat after the Games. That's the biggest payment to date to Whistler from the GOT, a sign of just how difficult it is to keep multi-million dollar venues like the sliding centre and the Nordic centre alive and well in the post-Olympic reality.

This is particularly the case after a season like last winter, which played havoc with the Nordic facility.

"As a winter venue it will struggle to always reach its full potential because of its location," said Roger Soane, WSL president and CEO.

As a summertime venue, however, there is a blank canvas... and a large $119 million facility in the heart of the Callaghan Valley. That canvas is getting some colour of late. Events like Tough Mudder and last weekend's Red Bull 400 are adding vibrancy, and fun, and money to the WSL's bottom line. Social and corporate functions are also filling up the space with a number of weddings booked throughout the summer and three large corporate groups with hundreds of guests using it all at once.

But is there room for more?

Soane believes there is.

"I'm looking to develop something out there that's meaningful, that is going to help physical literacy, and not compete with someone who has a commercial venture in Whistler," he said.

"I think there's a huge potential out there that we haven't tapped into yet."

WSL is looking to do a strategic plan for WOP later this summer. What about an endurance course, he queried.

Look at the Grouse Grind, a timed walk/hike/run up the side of a mountain.

"I look at things that are created out of nothing," said Soane.

"I think to maximize the potential there I think we need some capital funds to explore what potential there is out there."

Meanwhile, the $3.9 million GOT disbursement is critical to keeping the legacies going.

The payment to Whistler from the GOT also includes $1.456 million from the fund's contingency. It is set up to help the Whistler Sliding Centre, Whistler Olympic Park and the speed skating oval in Richmond.

"They asked for it," said James Bruce, chair of the GOT, of why the WSL received money from the contingency fund. "They have a deep-rooted need for it."

The Richmond Olympic Oval got $2.46 million.

The endowment fund, created with $55 million each from the provincial and federal governments to keep the legacy venues afloat after the Games, was at $140 million at the end of 2014. When asked how much the fund has grown to at its highest, Bruce said: "It's pretty close to it right now."

The fund saw a 14 per cent return on its investment in 2014, rising and falling with the investment market with large fluctuations. For example, there was a 19 per cent return on the investment in 2013 but a one per cent return in 2011.

The $3.9 million disbursement this year to Whistler is about half of the operating budget of the WSL.

While the audited financial statements for 2014-2015 fiscal year have yet to be released, Soane offered some insight into the past year.

It was a very good year for the Whistler Sliding Centre and the Athletes' Centre, he said, the former seeing revenues increase by $100,000, the latter seeing an increase of $200,000 over last year. The details will be will be included in the financial report later this summer. WSL also manages the Athletes' Centre.

"Unfortunately, these numbers are offset by Whistler Olympic Park," said Soane.

In the meantime, concern remains about the WSL funding in the long term.

Soane queries if they will be able to access the GOT contingency fund down the road. And there are some questions about whether distributing five per cent of the fund, as is now the case, is too much.

"We believe if we can survive around the $3.5 to $ 4 million GOT, we can fund short-term capital projects..." said Soane. "The big challenge, and it hasn't changed from when the legacies were started, is the long-term capital replacement. And that is always going to be a challenge."

While long-term funding and capital replacement remains a concern, this summer's business has been good and the Rolling Thunder summer program at the sliding track is also showing good momentum this second season in business.

Of the summer to date, Soane said: "We're ahead of budget and way ahead of last year."

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