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2010 legacies cost $7.5M to run

Whistler Sport Legacies releases first annual report, $2 million provincial subsidy comes in handy
Fast track Operating the Whistler Sliding Centre is a $2.7 million annual expense, according to the first financial report released by Whistler Sport Legacies. Photo BY brad

Two out of three Olympic legacy venues in Whistler are on life support, according to the first annual report from Whistler Sport Legacies.

The report reveals the Whistler Sliding Centre recouped $578,000 of its $2.7 million operating costs, while Whistler Olympic Park took in just over $1 million with operating costs of $2.1 million.

Only the Whistler Athletes' Centre is in the black, bringing in $723,000 and costing $677,000

Overseeing the venue operations is Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL). The report shows that administrative costs of running WSL are $1.9 million for its first full fiscal year.

Together, it costs more than $7.5 million to keep Whistler's Olympic legacies alive.

For the first time ever taxpayers are getting a glimpse of the inner financial workings of WSL through the annual general report released Tuesday. It details the financials of the compressed 2010 year, as well as the first full fiscal year from Sept. 30, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011.

In an interview with Pique prior to the report being released, Keith Bennett, WSL president and CEO, said the task has been challenging.

"It's incredibly challenging to convert facilities that were designed for a sporting event, however big they are, to convert their operation and their functionality to that of a company that's running in a steady state," said Bennett.

"They're amazing venues. There's nothing easy about operating them."

Pique was not able to interview Bennett after the report's release, but when asked via email what accounted for the $1.9 million in administration costs, he wrote:

"Administrative costs include the following departments providing support to the venues: Finance, IT — Information Services, Human Resources, Health & Safety, Marketing, Communications and Sales, the CEO's Office and the former VP's office and the normal expenses associated with those departments.

"The $1.9 (million) is the total budget for all of the behind-the-scenes operations of the organization. It includes 11 core full-time staff... with organization-wide expenses like legal, audit, advertising, reporting to other agencies, organization-wide telephone service contracts, contracted IT services, training, office equipment contracts, insurance and marketing, along with supporting the volunteer board and contracted business and other planning initiatives."

Altogether the assets WSL manages cost $290 million to construct.

Going forward, the $109 million Whistler Sliding Centre is perhaps the biggest challenge, costing $2.7 million in 2011 with revenues of under $578,000. In that year, the track was host to two major sliding events — the FIL World Cup Luge and the FIBT Inter-Continental Cup Skeleton. For six weeks that winter the Sliding Centre launched the Sport Experience Program, allowing tourists to get a feel for what it's like to ride the skeleton and the bobsleigh on the fastest track in the world. Four hundred people took part, selling out the six-week program.

The report, though it does not give the breakdown of the revenues from those programs, states: "These programs were very successful considering a challenging economic climate and competitive products in a tourism destination."

The figures coming out of the $120 million Whistler Olympic Park tell a rosier story. Expenses of $2.1 million were eased by a revenue stream of more than $1 million. There were 30,000 skier visits that winter season with 12 sport organizations making use of the facility with ongoing programs.

The Whistler Athletes' Centre, with its 85 rooms, 20 town homes and high performance gym, had revenues of $723,000 with expenses of $677,000 — the only legacy to come out of the red.

To pay for its $7.5 million in expenses, WSL relied not just on the $2.3 million in revenues. In 2011 it got almost $2.7 million from the Games Operating Trust, established in the lead up to the Games to provide long-term funding for some of the legacy venues. It also received $2 million in stopgap funding from the province to make ends meet.

At the time the province promised $2 million for 2011 and 2012, and to review future funding after that point with the understanding that it would be several years before the legacies in Whistler and the former speed skating oval in Richmond could become self-sustaining. There was also recognition through the Games Operating Trust, $110 million provided by the province and federal government, that the venues may never be self-sustaining.

When asked what happens to funding after 2012, Bennett emailed: "The province has not confirmed any funding beyond 2012. An application is made annually."

In his earlier interview with the Pique, Bennett said the organization has been constantly refining its business plans to react to changing circumstances.

"We're adjusting our plans each year, trying to get close to what Mike Furey (municipal CAO tasked with municipal staff's organizational review) coined as "the sweet spot," said Bennett. "We're trying to get to that point."

But it won't be Bennett leading the way any longer.

He confirmed this week he is retiring from the helm of WSL. The former municipal GM of resort experience took the job in the lead up to the 2010 Games.

"I had originally thought that I would retire after the Games (but) this opportunity was too challenging to let it slip by," he said.

The WSL is now advertising for the role of president and CEO. The position is slated to begin in September with a 12-week transfer of knowledge.