Affordability big challenge for Whistler 

Price increases feared as Whistler prepares for 2010

Now that the excitement over the winning the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is fading many are turning their minds to how this is going to affect affordability in Whistler.

Both residential and commercial renters are worried they may be evicted or face hefty increases in rent as some look to cash in on the Games.

"I am concerned because there area few landlords out there who honestly believe the opportunity is there to basically just pillage any tenants that they have," said Chris Quinlan, who owns the Behind the Grind coffee house in Whistler village.

"The Olympics is probably the biggest opportunity for everyone to push their financial self-sufficiency up… that we are going to see for a long time.

"But it is not going to happen if (commercial) landlords decide that they want to do it on the backs of small business."

Quinlan, who is thrilled the Games are coming to town, believes education is the best way to protect everybody’s interests.

"I believe the business community will get together and continue to discuss this and that education will be the best way to help everyone be successful," he said.

Jonathan Lazar of Larco Investments Ltd., which manages several village properties, said hosting the Olympic Games is unlikely to lead to evictions.

"I can’t see us steadfastly refusing tenants because of the Olympics, he said.

Lazar.

He said the company always strives to get the best mix of businesses in the properties it manages and that will true for the Olympics as well.

"We anticipate that the Olympics will strengthen the market," he added.

It’s an issue at the top of the list for Whistler Mayor High O’Reilly.

He’s just returned from Prague where the International Olympic Committee announced July 2 that the resort and Vancouver had won the Games.

"I think this issue is one that is most challenging," said O’Reilly, who played a key role in landing the Games.

One of the reasons it’s a challenge is because there are no real tools at the municipality’s disposal to control what landlords do. But O’Reilly believes education and communication between stakeholders will help keep the issue in check.

"We have said from the get-go that this isn’t about a two week windfall this is about 20 years of success," he said.

"I think those that try and milk it will find it’s short-term gain for long-term pain.

"I think our most important job is to tell the world a great story, be reasonable, price accordingly, deliver the best service and we will all benefit for a very, very long time.

"People remember if they felt like they were (cheated). But I have a lot of confidence that won’t happen.

"…People will do the right thing because that is the Canadian way."

Another part of the puzzle to keep the resort affordable will be to keep a handle on housing which may be at even more of a premium when construction workers start arriving to help get the venues ready for the 2010 Games.

On the list for upgrades and construction are the Athlete’s Village, the Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley, the Bobsled Luge run on Blackcomb, upgrades to Whistler Mountain for the Alpine events, upgrades to Meadow Park Sports Centre and a new multi-purpose/entertainment complex on Lot 1/9.

While plans aren’t set yet, said O’Reilly, the hope is that the first building constructed will be the Athletes’ Village.

"As quickly as we can build some of those buildings then we can house the construction workers in those facilities and that will take pressure off the employees and the employers who are worried," said O’Reilly.

But it is not just where you house the workers that is an issue. Finding them is a challenge as well for many Whistler projects.

Vision Pacific Contracting and Design advertises in other parts of the province for skilled workers for their Whistler projects.

" We are advertising in the Interior and on Vancouver Island," said owner Tim Regan.

"We have guys that come for the week and then go back home on the weekend."

Vision Pacific would prefer to attract key employees here to live but the cost of living in the resort makes that a challenge.

Like many construction companies it rents private residences in Whistler for its workers in order to ensure it has the labour it needs during the busy months.

Reagan, who believes the Games will be good for the resort, is hopeful that stakeholders will get together quickly and get a game plan going to combat some of the affordability issues.

"The people are out there to get this done," he said.

"But organizers are going to have to design some infrastructure in order to build the rest of the infrastructures needed and that only makes sense."

Chris Murrell, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. site superintendent of the new Four Seasons construction site, believes the Olympics won’t bring many more workers to the resort than it has been used to handling for the last few years.

PCL has about 250 to 300 workers on the site now, and there are at least three other major projects on the go, one at Creekside, one adjacent to the Holiday Inn, and the Pan Pacific.

"We have been talking about this and it seems like most of the work that is going to be going on here is probably no more than is being done now," said Murrell, who believes there are enough workers in B.C. to get the venues in Vancouver and Whistler built and ready for the Games.

"What happens is workers move around and they go where the money is and if there are not enough workers then people offer more money and the workers come."

Most of these issues will be worked out during the on-going community consultation process said Mayor O’Reilly.

"Making sure that our community is whole at the end of it was one of our promises in the guiding principles," said O’Reilly.

"This is an event, it is not a development. At the end of the day when the Olympics pick up and leave town the things that made us successful will still be here and intact and what we will have is the glow and the memories of having the world in our backyard.

"It is a tall order but I think we can do it. Whistler has been exceptional at executing great plans and sticking to our strategy.

"Our development of the bid process was unique and different and very successful and I believe we can do a great job in a very Canadian way."

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