Volunteer board made athletes’ village a reality 

Whistler Development Corporation prepares to hand new neighbourhood to Olympic organizers

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If Eric Martin and Jim Moodie tallied up all their time spent working on the athletes' village it would be about 2,500 hours each - more than Whistler could afford.

If they figured out the money spent on gas traveling between Whistler and Vancouver, the long-distance phone calls and other expenses it would be in the thousands of dollars, none of which has ever been expensed.

If they could somehow calculate the worry and the stress of building a $161 million public development under tight timelines, stretched budgets, labour shortages and escalating construction costs, the price would be prohibitive.

And yet, they've never once done the math.

When asked how much it has cost them to volunteer their time, money and expertise over the past seven years to build Whistler's athletes' village, which will become a permanent resident neighbourhood, the answer is simple:

"I've never thought about it and I'm never going to put any thought to it," said Martin, chair of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC). "It doesn't matter."

It is, he said simply, a way of giving back to the community. And though neither are locals in the sense that they live in Whistler full-time, they have deep ties to the resort and the people who live here.

On their way up to Whistler for Monday's board meeting, the last before the WDC turns the development over to Olympic organizers at the end of the month, Martin and Moodie stopped off at the athletes' village, now called Cheakamus Crossing.

Bathed in the morning light, the neighbourhood was looking its best. Homes are complete, parks are laid out, the First Nations art is installed. This is the culmination of seven years volunteering on the board responsible for the development.

They can't help but feel immense pride in the accomplishment, given that there was a time when it looked as though the village would just be a temporary blip on the Whistler landscape - here for a moment and gone after the 2010 Games.

The major task is complete. The proverbial keys to the village are almost in VANOC's hands, set to officially be handed over on Oct. 31. It has been finished on budget, on time, and beyond the wildest visioning of the board.

Perhaps the biggest sign that the development has been a major success is the near sell-out of the 221 ownership units, which will be converted and handed over to resident employees after the 2010 Games.

Just two remain unsold.

In addition, three of the seven market lots have sold and one of the 20 market townhouses has sold.

Seeing this development through to completion, however, is different than overseeing other projects, and, have no doubt, Martin and Moodie's list is long and accomplished; the former working on major developments in the Lower Mainland and locally such as the Meadow Park Sports Centre, the latter helping create the original Whistler village in the late '70s.

"This is a public exercise and you're building a community for the future and for residents that live here," said Moodie. "That puts quite a different flavour on it."

It was those former private enterprises in Whistler that were part of the reason for volunteering for the athletes' village.

"Whistler's been pretty good to me and my family over the years," said Moodie.

On top of that, the project, said Martin, intrigued him.

"The challenge was, how do we take this from the bid, which is a temporary housing project, and turn it into something much more fruitful?" said Martin.

The answer to that question proved complex and there were many pieces that needed to fall into place before the development could become a reality, not the least of which was meeting a sizeable funding gap in the business plan.

That has been one of the biggest challenges, coming in on budget.

"I actually take the responsibility more seriously than I would on a private board almost because it's public money, it's taxpayers' money," said Martin. "And I see enough examples of taxpayers' money being wasted that that really bothers me."

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler came to the table with more than $8 million in additional hotel tax revenue, the project had its lifeline.

It was up to the board to steer it toward the finish line.

Whistler's success in building the village can't help but be juxtaposed against Vancouver's disappointment. Vancouver's problem-plagued $1 billion athletes' village project is about $130 million over budget.

Martin was asked to sit on Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's Olympic Village advisory board early this year to help see the project through to completion and mitigate taxpayer exposure.

He is confident however, that like the Whistler village, the Vancouver village will be a great place for the athletes during the Games.

And while the keys to the Whistler village go to VANOC this month, the boardmembers' job is far from over.

The WDC board will continue to meet and work over the winter as they prepare to convert the units from athlete mode to resident mode after the Games.

That's more volunteer time, more unpaid expenses, more stress and worry about meeting timelines and staying on budget.

The long and short of it is, said Moodie: "Being a volunteer is very, very satisfying."

 

 

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