Legacy venues financials improving 

Last year-end report sees increase in revenues

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER - Picking up speed Whistler's Olympic venues are recouping around half of their running costs as more people make use of them.
  • Photo by Mike Crane/Courtesy of Tourism Whistler
  • Picking up speed Whistler's Olympic venues are recouping around half of their running costs as more people make use of them.

Whistler's Olympic venues are recouping roughly half of what it costs to keep them alive, a shortfall that is narrowing over time as more people enjoy the benefits of 2010 legacies.

According to the just-released financial statements from Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society (WSL), it cost almost $6.8 million to run the three venues and the organization itself in the last financial year, ending March 31, 2013.

In that financial year the three venues — Whistler Olympic Park, Whistler Sliding Centre and the Whistler Athletes' Centre — brought in roughly $3.15 million. That left a funding gap of $3.6 million.

It's a far cry from the WSL's first fiscal year, which ran from Sept. 2010 to Sept. 2011, when the difference in revenues and expenses was over $5 million. But it's still not where president and CEO Roger Soane wants it.

"Ideally we'd love to get to a point where we're self-sufficient," he said, of the second annual report released by the organization, the first under Soane's tenure.

"Capital replacement is always going to be a challenge for the organization. As our infrastructure ages we will be challenged."

In the meantime, to make up the difference, WSL relies on money from the Games Operating Trust, roughly $2.7 million annually, a fund set up specifically to help the legacy venues.

And the rest to date has been coming from the B.C. government in what's called a "transition grant." Roughly $9 million has been received from the province; most recently $2.7 million was guaranteed over three years until March 2015.

When asked if WSL predicts it will need more transition funding after 2015, the WSL's finance manager Deanne Downey said: "At this stage we're not committing to saying that we need additional B.C. government funds or not."

After three years operating in the post-Olympic reality, WSL's numbers are steadily getting better with revenues on the rise, and expenses in some areas tightening.

It costs $1.4 million of the $6.8 million for administration, down half a million dollars from that first reporting year. Savings were found by collapsing positions — there's no longer a vice president, no manager of marketing and communication, no HR manager and all IT is done in-house as opposed to contracted out to create "a lean team."

On the flip side, more and more people are using the venues.

"Year-over-year we've increased our revenue at Whistler Olympic Park and at the sliding centre and we're forecasting to do that again this coming winter season," said Soane.

The past winter, season's pass revenue was up eight per cent at WOP and day pass revenue up 15 per cent over the previous winter season. Non traditional use of the venue for corporate group events, recreational sports events like Tough Mudder, TV and movie filming and weddings also continues to grow and accounts for roughly 15 per cent of WOP revenue — or $208,000.

At the sliding centre, the public sliding programs achieved a 42 per cent increase in revenue over the previous season and non-traditional use was also successful.

WSL also saw big returns after investing in a self-service kitchen at the Whistler Athletes' Centre resulting in a 143 per cent increase in lodge revenue over the previous year.

"I think the organization is fulfilling its mandate for sport exceedingly well," said Soane. "The Olympic legacy is alive and thriving at our venues."

Hopefully that will translate to results at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia, he added.

Here at home, however, he wants to focus on expanding the public offerings, and ultimately revenues, and stick to the WSL mandate of focusing on high performance sports. He sees that translating on the ground to developing more activities at the Callaghan, something unique, not in competition with Whistler's existing businesses.

"I don't see any major developments going out of Whistler Olympic Park," said Soane of the next five years. "I'm very aware that we're funded by taxpayers... I don't want to develop something that we already have in Whistler."

The WSL's annual report comes on the heels of the final UBC Olympic Games Impact (OGI) study, developed by the International Olympic Committee.

That report found that for every $12 spent by the provincial and federal governments for major Olympic infrastructure like the Sea to Sky Highway, local taxpayers only put $1 toward the infrastructure.

"The idea that the two hosts were able to leverage provincial and federal funding to a pretty good extent to get some important infrastructure and to create good legacies for those communities," said Robert VanWynsberghe, assistant professor of educational studies at UBC.

The report is not without its flaws. It did not take into account ongoing costs for legacy venues and those impacts of these because of the parameters requested by the IOC.

"That is the $800,000 question... because the maintenance costs are going to be high," said VanWynsberghe. "They're probably going to increase. "They don't have a category (in the study) called 'potential white elephants.' Maybe they should. But they don't."

Olympic venue results

Revenues Expenses Difference

Whistler Olympic Park $1,387,925 $2,161,212 ($773,287)

Whistler Sliding Centre $836,921 $2,184,918 ($1,347,997)

Whistler Athletes' Centre $918,646 $1,003,184 ($84,538)

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