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Olympic deadline nearing for Whistler

Council still waiting to hear about proposed legacies before endorsing bid When the official bid book for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Bid is sent to IOC delegates in January of 2003, it will include a wide range of legacy projects and programs for the

Council still waiting to hear about proposed legacies before endorsing bid

When the official bid book for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Bid is sent to IOC delegates in January of 2003, it will include a wide range of legacy projects and programs for the town of Whistler – but maybe not all of the legacies Whistler has asked for.

"In the coming months we’re going to be asked to sign off on the bid and my feeling at this point is that it might not include a few of the legacies we had hoped for," said Councillor Ken Melamed, addressing the monthly AWARE meeting on Sept. 5.

"We’re in negotiations with the province, but it’s looking less likely as we get closer to the deadline. Whistler council is going to have to decide if we can endorse it without (the legacies)."

The 420-page Vancouver 2010 bid book has to be in the hands of IOC members by Jan. 10, 2003. Before it can be sent out it has to be edited, proof-read, translated into French and printed.

No final publication date has been announced, but principals of the bid agree that the final copy will likely have to completed in November. Whether or not the bid book includes a full endorsement by Whistler council is yet to be determined.

The federal government, provincial government and City of Vancouver have already endorsed the Olympic bid. Locally, both the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Whistler have officially put their support behind the bid. Whistler council is so far the only voice missing.

Whistler is waiting to hear if three key requests for legacies will be given a thumb’s up by the province: a land bank, new "financial tools" and expanded municipal boundaries.

The land bank is essentially a chunk of crown land within municipal boundaries that can be used to build affordable housing and an athlete’s village.

The financial tools requested would most likely be some kind of resort tax that applied to goods or services used by tourists to help pay for things like park maintenance and sewage. Currently the municipality is facing rising operating costs, and its only income comes from property taxes, fees and fines, and a portion of the hotel tax.

The expanded municipal boundaries would include a section of the Callaghan Valley and the Rainbow Mountain watershed. The Callaghan Valley will host the Olympic Nordic events, and is also a preferred site for an athlete’s village and staff housing.

According to Sam Corea, the director of media relations for the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, Whistler is already in line to receive several legacies, including upgrades to the speed and technical ski event venues; a 5,000 seat multiplex sports arena for Paralympic ice events; a bob and luge track on Blackcomb; an athlete’s village that could become staff housing; Nordic facilities in the Callaghan Valley; and transportation options for the Sea to Sky region.

"We continue to be fully involved with Whistler, they’ve participated in all of the venue planning, and I guess the municipality is still waiting for final details regarding some of the larger issues they have," said Corea.

"Everything’s proceeding, and we have to take (Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly) at his word that the endorsement is coming. It would be great to have the endorsement of Whistler in the bid book itself, but we can’t put it there unless it’s there.

"We’d rather have it in there of course, and the sooner the better obviously. If it’s supported by the local government, it’s going to be a stronger bid."

According to Corea, the bid corporation is focused on the 18 criteria specified by the International Olympic Committee, and the legacies in question are a matter between the provincial government and Whistler.

O’Reilly says he is still optimistic that an agreement on legacies can be reached well before the bid book goes to print.

"I think the provincial government understands that we’re looking to finalize as best as we can," he said. "We’ve communicated to the community that this is the way we’ve approached it. We’ve asked the province that (the legacies) be considered win or lose, and we’re looking for the province to respond to that.

"It’s just the last little pieces, and I’m still hopeful that they’re going to be there. I don’t know what they’re going to say to tell you the truth, and that’s the problem."

O’Reilly said that council is still in negotiations with the province over the Olympic legacies, and that at some point they will have to vote on a package one way or the other.

"At some point you get a final offer, saying this is the best we can do. That’s what we’re waiting for," he said.

"Council will determine if it’s reasonably close, or if it falls so short that there’s no way."

According to O’Reilly, the land bank and the boundary expansion make sense for the province because the municipality has the facilities to build and manage Nordic facilities and housing in the Callaghan.

"I think that’s something that’s just too onerous for the regional district to undertake, they have a very small office and a small staff," he said.

In regards to the financial tools, O’Reilly pointed out that something similar that will give communities more power to create taxes is already proposed in the provincial Community Charter.

"We don’t know where that’s going, but we thought this was an appropriate time to put it on the table,’ he said.

The municipality is also actively involved in the current discussions on road issues, and is concerned that regular highway closures to upgrade Highway 99 could impact on tourism.

"It’s like buying a house. We’re the ones who are happy to make the purchase, but we want to know exactly what it is that we’re buying. The impact (of the 2010 Olympics) to our community is probably the most significant of any player because it’s a small community and it’s a big project," he said.

"I think we’ve tried to negotiate community values and guiding principles through the process and I’m very optimistic we can find common ground and move ahead. The bid corporation has done a fabulous job."

Ted Nebbeling, the MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi and minister responsible for the Olympic bid, could not be reached for comment by press time.