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Detailing the Games

The official word on the 2010 Olympics is still “on time and on budget”, and there’s little evidence, really, to dispute that.

The official word on the 2010 Olympics is still “on time and on budget”, and there’s little evidence, really, to dispute that. VANOC holds all the cards and numbers and despite being just three years away from the Games and having yet to finalize a business plan, things look to be going pretty well.

Although there was three government reports critical of VANOC last year, changes were made and Ottawa and Victoria were satisfied — enough to provide the additional $110 million that VANOC needed for venue construction.

The IOC also seems to be happy with VANOC. The folks from Lausanne will be making another visit to check on things next month but there has seldom been heard a discouraging word from Switzerland. In fact, the 2010 Games may seem like a picnic to the IOC after the bidding scandal and post-9/11 security nightmare of Salt Lake in 2002, the just-in-time construction chaos of Athens in 2004, and the indifference shown by most of Italy at Torino in 2006.

There will undoubtedly be some hiccups in the next three years but the 2010 Olympics should be good for Vancouver, Whistler, B.C. and tourism generally. The big plan is that our corner of the world will become better known through the 2010 Games — business contacts will be made, Canadians will be recognized as friendly, hospitable people and the world will want to visit and learn more about us.

It’s not clear that we fully appreciate what hosting the Games can do for Whistler’s international profile. While much of the rest of B.C. may tire of hearing about Whistler, and we in Whistler think we are recognized throughout the ski/snowboard world, it was just last month that an English family said they “discovered” Whistler after exhausting all efforts to find a European ski resort with snow.

While the big plan is understood, locally there are still numerous details and logistics to be worked out in preparations for 2010 and life after the Games. Most of those revolve around transportation, accommodation and the Games’ impact on business. This year, 2007, is being called the year for questions; 2008 will be the year for answers.

That sounds fine but we should mind the words of Petter Ronningen, COO of the 1994 Lillehammer Games, who said this week that one of the biggest challenges is moving staff from the planning to the operational stages of the Games.

“They have a tendency to continue to plan — to get them to move out from their offices and start thinking of the operation, you almost have to throw them out,” Ronningen said.

Which is a sentiment that some have had about Whistler. And one area where that is looming larger and larger for Whistler is housing for seasonal employees. One of the great legacies of the Games for Whistler is the 300-acre land bank for employee housing. There is lots of affordable housing for permanent residents coming on line in the next few years, including the athletes’ village on part of the land bank. But we are only now coming to grips with the fact there is considerably less housing planned for seasonal employees.

This, of course, will be an issue in 2010, but it is also an issue now, and indications are it will be again next winter and the winter after that. Fuelled by a general labour shortage and fierce competition for employees, the situation may be exacerbated by the heavy construction program needed over the next three years to get ready for the Olympics. Construction crews will likely be occupying housing that would otherwise go to seasonal employees.

Meanwhile, VANOC is still trying to secure all the accommodation needed for the Olympics — which is enough that it anticipates volunteers for the Whistler portion of the Games will have to stay in Squamish or Pemberton.

VANOC’s proposal to house Olympic media in a cruise ship docked in Squamish has been sunk, but cruise ship accommodation might become a part of Whistler’s winter employee housing if we don’t get on with it.

Of course, for Whistler employees living in Squamish and Pemberton it’s going to be a little more difficult to get to work during the Games.

These types of details are still being worked out, but when businesses and residents are told to get on with their 2010 Games plan and they don’t have this information it’s difficult to put effective plans in place.