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Pique n' your interest

What about the bid?

I have no doubt that the coalition of governments, sport agencies, corporations and civic boosters that brought us the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games have the best of intentions. And I have no doubt that the same Olympic proponents will try their level best to bring those best intentions to life over the next four and a half years.

But sooner or later reality always sets in, whether it’s rising construction costs, differing opinions on the definition of sustainability, or questions over the long-term viability of various promised facilities.

The bottom line is that the Games we get in 2010 will likely be somewhat different than the Games we were guaranteed in the bid book in 2002.

While understandable – it’s mostly public money at stake, and organizers have bigger obligations to taxpayers – changing anything that was spelled out in black and white in the official bid book is bound to create some ill will.

Such as the recent announcement that the Paralympic sledge hockey arena destined for Whistler might be relocated to Squamish instead.

While there are a lot of compelling reasons why this is a good idea – Whistler isn’t straddled with an estimated $20 million in capital costs or ongoing operational costs, Squamish gets more involved in the Games, a Junior A hockey team might come to the corridor, and Whistler could be compensated with another ice surface and expanded athlete centre – there are also a lot of good reasons why it is not.

One reason comes from the Canadian Paralympic Committee, who helped to sell the Games to the world by offering one of the most convenient and compact Paralympics in history. Some International Olympic Committee members may even have factored that into their decision when they voted to bring the Games to Vancouver.

Some people in Whistler might have based their support of the Games on that facility, and what a multiplex could mean for local sports and tourism.

During the bid process, sports organizations in town were approached by the 2010 Bid Corporation and asked what kind of facility legacy they would like to see in Whistler. The proposed multiplex, which would most likely be built in the North Village beside the Marketplace, would house a number of these legacies.

While those groups still might get those facilities through an expanded athlete centre, which will be inconveniently located opposite Function Junction in the athletes village, they still have no guarantees either way.

Businesses that were counting on a large arena in the village to offer recreation for residents and visitors, as well as serve as a kind of convention and conference centre, are no doubt feeling a little betrayed.

That’s not to say that the Resort Municipality of Whistler is wrong to look into the Squamish option, but when all our mayor and councillors can say is "trust us" they miss the whole point of the Olympic bid. Some people don’t want the best deal for Whistler, they want the facility that was promised in the bid.

In fact, almost none of the people I’ve talked to really want to see a sliding centre built on the side of Blackcomb Mountain, but were willing to put up with it if it meant the town could benefit from other legacies. Again, one of those legacies was the sledge hockey arena and multiplex.

If the sledge hockey arena was left out of the bid from the beginning, would the bid have had as much local support? And if Whistler residents did not support the Games, would we still have won the right to host them?

And if we didn’t win the Games, would First Nations have been given a chunk of land in Whistler to develop more market housing, potentially crowding our limited recreation facilities (e.g. the mountains) even further? Would local hotels have been as eager to renovate, creating noise and clutter in the village? Would the holders of Whistler’s remaining bed units be in such a hurry to build? Would our local businesses be as concerned by rising commercial rents and the fact that they can’t get long-term agreements past 2009?

And if Whistler can weasel out of one Olympic commitment, what’s to stop other Olympic partners from weaseling out of their commitments as well?

On page five of the Bid Book under the heading Legal Aspects, it states "We confirm that representations contained in the Bid Book will be binding on the Vancouver OCOG" – I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds like a promise.

I’ve taken an extreme line of questioning here, I admit, and I think that Vancouver would probably have still won the Games if the Paralympic arena had been located in Squamish from the very beginning – but these are the kinds of questions that are bound to come up when you significantly alter what many saw as a done deal.

We’ll have to wait and see what the RMOW comes up with, and whether Squamish can rally the support and the bucks to build the arena there – if not it’s probably coming to Whistler anyway and all concerns are moot.

But what hasn’t been explained is why there has been no public process regarding the issue up to this point. Whistler has open house meetings for practically everything that happens in this town, to the extent it’s almost irritating. Even relatively simple decisions are made by committee with the vetting of outside consultants.

So why all the secrecy regarding the arena plans?

Council has never asked us to just trust them on any issue before, and I suppose that they have earned the right by now to ask us for a little patience and leeway on the issue. Personally, I plan to reserve my judgment until I see the final proposal.

I just hope our opinions still count.