Land bank part of Olympic legacy package 

Whistler outlined what it hopes are the legacies it will receive if it is chosen, along with Vancouver, to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games Wednesday night in a much anticipated open forum.

Dozens of people from the community milled around a conference room scrutinizing the location of the athletes village as part of a community land-bank deal, a proposed multi-use complex, the Nordic event venues and other projects associated with the Games.

"I think it is interesting," said Steve Henderson owner of Whistler’s Great Games and Toys.

Peering at the plans for the "land-bank" Henderson said this legacy alone could sway his decision to support the Olympics coming to Whistler.

"I need families settling in Whistler and raising kids here to survive," he said.

"I think the (land bank) would probably be the greatest legacy. I as a small owner, and with my primary business being local residents, I’m concerned that if we do not address affordable housing for families then my business will dry up."

Under the community "land bank" legacy the government would promise crown land to the municipality for use in the future. It would be the site of the athletes village, which must house 2,500 and offer supporting services, but it would also be a location which could be developed in the future should the municipality decide it needs it.

Use of the land would be limited to resident housing and other related social uses such as day cares and fire-halls.

It could not be used for commercial development unless the government was compensated.

Four sites in or near Whistler are being considered. The Callaghan Valley, Brandywine, the upper Cheakamus, and the lower Cheakamus.

The Callaghan is already slated to be the site of the Nordic events. It is only 13 kilometres west of Whistler. Brandywine is only a few minutes drive along the highway south of the entrance to the Callaghan.

The Cheakamus locations are directly opposite Whistler’s industrial and retail park, Function Junction, about 10 minutes drive south of Whistler Village. The Lower Cheakamus currently holds the municipality’s landfill.

The final choice must take into consideration several criteria including proximity to existing developed areas, the environment, how much work has to be done to prepare the site and how much improvement must be done to facilitate highway access, water supply and other infrastructure needs.

The Olympic Bid Corporation, or organizing committee, would pay for roads and servicing to the athletes village.

"Things aren’t cast in stone and there are no final details," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

"But I think we have an array of benefits that the community can consider."

Other legacies include a second phase revamp of the existing conference centre, which is likely to cost $15 million, and the construction of a multi-use complex to seat at least 5,000 for the Paralympic skating events.

After the Olympics the multi-use centre could hold trade shows, large concerts or other events. It would be located in a currently undeveloped piece of land behind the medical centre on Lots one and nine.

Should the public decide they don’t want this it can be moved to Squamish.

The municipality is also anxious to get control of its watershed and have proposed as part of the package to expand the municipal boundaries in the Callaghan Valley.

The argument is that boundary expansion would simplify and unify Games preparation and facilitate land use planning and management of areas that impact the community.

Other legacies being sought include the use and promotion of sustainable practices, the development of and investment in sport development, the development of new financial tools which will help Whistler achieve financial sustainability and maintain affordability and the promotion of the resort globally.

"This is a pretty impressive list in my opinion," said Mayor O’Reilly.

"I am very satisfied with the negotiations and where they have gone.

This is amazing, and we are doing it on our terms."

Transportation was also a popular topic of discussion at the forum. Terry Wright, vice president of the 2010 Bid Corporation confirmed that buses, high-speed passenger water craft and trains will be used to move spectators to and from venues.

The highway will be closed to non-resident, non-Olympic visitors during the Games, and to day skier vehicle traffic during peak moving periods. But shuttles will be provided for anyone who wants to get to Whistler whether they are going to the Olympics or not.

Residents will get permits and can travel when they want.

But some at the meeting left with questions unanswered.

Van Powel, a local businessman and co-founder of a Whistler-based information Web site on the Olympic 2010 bid wondered who will pay for all the legacies.

"The legacies are wonderful," he said. "But who is paying for them? Is it the taxpayers and if it is we have to look at some point if this is an appropriate use of taxpayers money?"

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