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Councillors impressed by Salt Lake Games, but feel Whistler could do better

There is no doubt that Whistler and Vancouver can do a great job hosting the Olympics say two councillors just returned from the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games.

There is no doubt that Whistler and Vancouver can do a great job hosting the Olympics say two councillors just returned from the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games.

"I think looking at what they did down there, I think we can do a fabulous job with the Games," said Councillor Nick Davies.

His thoughts were echoed by Councillor Ken Melamed.

"I came back with the sense that there is no question that Vancouver-Whistler can put on a Games of equal or superior calibre," he said.

"In fact I think we could do better because Whistler has better venues."

Both were impressed with the Salt Lake Games but saw many lessons for Whistler as the community considers hosting the 2010 Winter Games.

One of the most crucial lessons was the importance of tying down the legacies of the Games for the community.

"If we get the Games then the community has to get a substantial legacy package to make it worth our while," said Melamed.

"And they can?t be a burden on the community."

Melamed said he is not convinced Salt Lake got any real legacies out of the Games.

"You got the sense that after the Olympics left Salt Lake that there wasn?t going to be a huge legacy," he said.

"Looking at Soldier Hollow I believe it will flop after the Games. It will cease to exist. So there will be almost zero legacy for the Nordic facility. It is out in the middle of nowhere and it requires snow making on the whole track.

"If ours is to succeed it has to be properly endowed and it has to make sense after the Games."

Melamed believes the Callaghan has great potential but he also accepts that it faces real challenges. Like Soldier Hollow in Utah it is also some ways out of the village, which makes it less accessible. It does, however, have great snow.

And he believes having the Bobsled and Luge at Blackcomb?s Base II, as is currently under discussion, would also be a great legacy for Whistler, with the right endowment left to support it.

Both councillors found businesses that cashed in big-time on the Games and others who suffered with the Games in town.

Davies was struck by the success of a small restaurant in Park City which he discovered was only invented for the duration of the Games.

"What it was, was a catering company in town which rented the space to take advantage of the Olympics and open a restaurant and they were busy," he said.

For Whistler, said Davies: "There are definitely some economic issues in terms of retailers who may be impacted, but I think there would be far, far more success stories."

He also noticed that Park City suffered because spectators who came to watch events had to return to Salt Lake on official buses, the last of which usually left in the afternoon.

That meant no shopping time for visitors or time to eat and relax.

There were taxi-van commuter services available but few knew of them and so didn?t use them, said Davies.

"(The Salt lake Organizing Committee) didn?t turn their minds to keeping people in Park City and giving them the opportunity to spend their money and that is something we have got to do here," he said.

Another important lesson, said Davies, is to make sure every event and venue associated with the 2010 Games is either linked to Vancouver or Whistler.

It shouldn?t be the Callaghan Nordic Centre it should be the Whistler Nordic Centre, said Davies.

He was pleasantly surprised to find nowhere near the level of disruption from having the Games as he expected in Salt Lake.

"I think a huge advantage is now I can say to people, ?I know what it was like in Salt Lake. I was down there and I have seen the degree of disruption and I have seen the security and it is not anywhere near as bad as people feared,?" said Davies.

"In Park City people were still able to drive around town and do their grocery shopping and so on.

"What I got from people was you just use your common sense. You don?t try driving across town when the GS is loading or unloading.

"Well I don?t try driving into the village at 5 p.m. on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so what is the difference?"

Some business owners did complain that shopping was down and many of them laid the blame at the feet of the organizing committee, SLOC, which put out the message that Salt Lake was too busy to cope with visitors.

Davies said Whistler has to make sure the world knows the resort is never too busy to host visitors.

"People assume that there will be disruption and we have to aggressively go after that misconception and tell them we are open for business," said Davies.

Melamed echoed those concerns.

"Certainly some businesses did well but a lot of them didn?t do well," he said.

"Some other ski areas in the area said their business has been down all winter.

"There was a lot of speculation going on. Leases were bought out. People put their houses up for rent and they lost money.

"People did loose money down there so we need to be very aware of the pros and cons and making sure that we give spectators the opportunity to get into the village and yet not overwhelm it to the point where nobody can move around."

Melamed also paid particular attention to the environmental and sustainable aspects of the Salt Lake Games. He wasn?t impressed.

"I know sustainability is a pillar of the IOC," said Melamed.

"But when you go down (to Salt Lake) you don?t get a sense that they are really all that committed to it.

"Transportation is going to be huge, energy issues will be huge, waste issues will be very big so it will be a huge challenge.

"But again I think we are a better place to do that because we already have that sensitivity going onto the Games as part of our guiding principles.

"I think the Americans paid lip service to it and the IOC let them get away with it.

"We have to ensure that if we do it, it is not tokenism and that it is real. The Bid Corp is reluctant to name (the 2010 bid) as the Sustainability Games but as a councillor for Whistler I am very much committed to that as a goal."

Melamed is also committed to the idea of downsizing for the 2010 Games. Most venues in Whistler for the 2010 Games are set to accommodate up to 15,000 spectators; that?s half the number at many of the Alpine events at Snow Basin.

Said Melamed: "We are going to downscale the Games and I came away with renewed commitment for that vision."