May 29, 1998 Features & Images » Feature Story

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2010: An Olympic Odyssey Pursuing the Olympic Games is all about the legacy they leave behind By Bob Barnett On a sunny first day in May, within the concourse of the Collosseum-like Vancouver Public Library, the Vancouver-Whistler bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics was officially launched, complete with confetti snow raining down on the assembled media and dignitaries. The fact that the Olympics were a creation of the Greeks, rather than the Romans, was of little consequence. In fact, to judge by Premier Glen Clark’s words, the historical significance, even the sporting aspect of the Games, are secondary to the real issue. "The overwhelming advantage to hold it is the jobs, the investment, the exposure, the potential for tourism outweigh any provincial government cost with respect to infrastructure that might be incurred," Clark said. And if there was any doubt as to the premier’s motivation he added: "The Olympic Games are the perfect venue to support B.C.’s effort to grow jobs." Of course the premier isn’t the only one interested in an Olympic legacy. It’s not a sudden ground swell of interest in the two-man luge event that is driving the bid for the 2010 Games, it’s what the Games can leave behind for those involved. It always has been. This is the third time Whistler has been involved in a bid for the Winter Olympics. The first bid was inspired by the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif. That led to a group of Vancouver businessmen forming two organizations, the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association to pursue the 1968 Olympic bid and Garibaldi Lifts. Ltd. to develop Whistler Mountain. The lift company was more successful, as Banff was chosen by the Canadian Olympic Association in 1961 as the official Canadian bid. Two years later the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1968 Games to Grenoble, France. If developing the mountain was the legacy of the first Olympic bid, a very linear village at the base of Whistler Mountain would have been the legacy if the bid for the 1976 Games had been successful. Although the COA endorsed in 1968 the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee’s bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics, Montreal was bidding for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The COA eventually had to decide whether to back the Winter Games in Whistler or the Summer Games in Montreal, and Whistler finished second again. Now Vancouver and Whistler are stepping up for another try, and as the premier noted there are several benefits the Games could bring. At the top of the list of legacies the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Bid Society sees are major transportation enhancements, to the Vancouver-Whistler corridor and between Richmond/Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver. Arthur Griffiths, chair of the bid society, also heads the Lower Mainland rapid transit development project, so there may be some synergy between transportation projects and the Olympic bid. The Games are also seen as a major tourism marketing platform by Tourism Vancouver and our own Whistler Resort Association. Community facilities, including an athletes village in Vancouver that will become social housing after the Games, would also be part of the legacy. It’s estimated that work on facilities, transportation systems and the Games themselves will generate 25,600-person-years of employment and $1.5 billion in economic activity. Tax revenues for the province are estimated at $250 million. There would be something for sport, too. In addition to creating sports facilities that don’t currently exist, in B.C., such as a permanent speed skating oval and a bobsleigh track in the Lower Mainland, the legacy would include ski jumps and a national integrated alpine ski training centre at Whistler, as well as a $50 million-$100 million sport endowment fund to benefit developing athletes in all Olympic sports. For Whistler, the major legacy would be an improved transportation system, preferably one that subscribes to the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger). That would be the return for Whistler hosting the Olympic snowboarding, alpine skiing and nordic skiing events. The question for some people is, is that enough to justify Whistler’s involvement? "In my mind, there’ nothing more important than our (lack of) access," says Craig MacKenzie, acting president of the WRA. "The highway is the major economic constraint to the Sea to Sky Corridor," MacKenzie says, noting the recent accidents on Highway 99 which have held up traffic for hours. MacKenzie sites numbers to show the situation is going to get worse. Whistler is approximately two-thirds of the way to buildout and year-round occupancy rates are just a little over 50 per cent. Add the final one-third of Whistler bed units to the equation and increasing occupancy rates and Whistler alone takes up all of the highway’s remaining capacity. With Furry Creek and Squamish growing, and the possibility of another ski area at Garibaldi at Squamish and perhaps even Powder Mountain, the need for increased transportation capacity becomes apparent. "We go into the international marketplace eyeball to eyeball with Vail and Aspen and we win," MacKenzie says, noting that Whistler continues to attract skiers and boarders in record numbers even though skier visits across North America remain flat. "But it makes no sense to fight over people in London, for example, if we can’t get them up the highway." The provincial government, of course, is in no position today to fund a new transportation system — a new highway or high-speed rail line — between Vancouver and Whistler. Last week it chose the least expensive, and most short-term, solution to the ageing Lions Gate Bridge. And Griffiths has his hands full trying to get various municipal governments to buy into an east-west light rapid transit system in the Lower Mainland, before even considering work on a north-south system. But provincial governments in British Columbia have always needed a reason to budget for major undertakings, and the Olympics, 12 years hence, represent an attainable target date for a mega-project such as a new highway or high-speed rail line. It would also continue the B.C. tradition of road building, made famous by Premiers W.A.C. Bennett and his son Bill Bennett. Transportation within Whistler is currently being reviewed by the Whistler Transportation Advisory Group, which hopes to come up with some innovative proposals for long-term solutions in the next few months. MacKenzie — who will continue to represent Whistler on the board of the bid society after Suzanne Denback becomes WRA president on June 1 — says another aspect of the bid for the Games is the opportunity for renewal. As the Disney Corporation found a decade ago, it’s tempting not to reinvest in something when it becomes successful. Disney didn’t reinvest in Disneyland and visits gradually dropped off as buildings began to show their age. When the company caught on and started renewing its facilities, the visits started to come back up. "By 2010 the original Whistler Village will be 30 years old," MacKenzie says. "The average life span of a building is about 40 years, so at some point the village has to be renewed. "The Olympics will force us to maintain our product, to keep revitalizing it." The Olympics would also mean some development of the Madd River-Callaghan Valley for the nordic events. The trail system required for cross-country skiing and biathlon could become the foundation for a significant recreation area, both winter and summer. MacKenzie feels a major activity centre drawing people out of the village and Whistler Creek could be highly desirable by the time Whistler reaches buildout and occupancy rates average 65 per cent year round. The nordic facilities in the Callaghan are the only aspect of the Games bid which would require some development in Whistler. The Games are designed to fit within the municipality’s current infrastructure plans — ie, the bed unit cap would not have to be raised for the Games nor would sewer and water facilities have to be expanded beyond what is already planned. That fits with one of the newer requirements the IOC has imposed on Olympic hosts, that the Games have minimal impact on the environment. Existing facilities will be used wherever possible. The conference centre is being proposed as the media centre for the 500 journalists anticipated in Whistler for the Games and "We’re looking at using existing hotels for the athletes’ village," MacKenzie says. "Security could be taken care of if we use adjacent buildings." The bid society’s first approach was to build a village for the 1,000 athletes, coaches and trainers who would be in Whistler for the Games. The bid society thought the village could be turned into employee housing after the Games. But Whistler representatives recognized the town can’t wait 12 years for employee housing. "The board is listening to us, listening to what’s needed to keep Whistler on side," MacKenzie says. "We can have an intelligent, low-impact Games without having to change our lives for years." So with the support of the amateur sports associations, the tourism industry, the premier and — apparently — most of Whistler, the bid society waits for the COA’s August site inspection. In November the 80-odd members of the COA, including representatives from summer Olympic sports such as badminton and track & field, will vote for Calgary, Quebec City or Vancouver-Whistler as Canada’s choice to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. In 2003 the IOC will award the 2010 Games. Whistler’s first Olympic bid led to the development of Whistler Mountain. The second bid, had it been successful, would have led to the development of a village quite different from what has been built. This third bid, if successful, will mean much-needed transportation systems for Vancouver, Whistler and the Sea to Sky Corridor. Given that the legacy of the first bid continues to grow in popularity the question might be, what happens if the bid is unsuccessful?

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