Whistler waits for funding, deadline on village looms 

RMOW needs approval of business plan within weeks

If work does not begin on the Olympic athletes village by the end of May, there may not be enough time to build a permanent village, and a lasting legacy for the community, said Mayor Ken Melamed.

His comments come on the heels of a rare 30-minute interview with Premier Gordon Campbell in Victoria last week, in which the mayor spent the bulk of the time discussing the athletes village business plan. The resort needs the province to step up to the plate and help make the athletes village financially viable or there will be no legacy.

"We didn’t get the message back that they (the province) don’t support us, we just got that they’re not ready to make a decision," said Mayor Ken Melamed.

While he left Victoria without approval of the business plan, he is convinced the province is taking notice of the urgency of the situation.

"It was a positive meeting," added the mayor. "I think we made our case well and we will be following up. We can’t afford to wait very long for an answer."

The Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC) had set April 15 as a drop-dead date for moving forward with the athletes village. They were prepared at that time to decide if they would build a permanent village or give the Vancouver Organizing Committee the green light to build a temporary village, said the mayor.

In order to buy Whistler more time, VANOC released $400,000 of the $45 million it pledged for the village to allow planning work to continue.

"We are aware if the discussions between the funding partners for the Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Village," said Terry Wright, VANOC's senior vice president, Service Operations and Ceremonies.

"It is important to note that planning is proceeding on time and on schedule.

"Whistler, VANOC and the province are working to achieve an agreement on this complex matter, and the goodwill is there to ensure that permanent resident housing is a legacy of the (village)."

The $400,000 allowed the WDC to move the start deadline to the end of May. While that has relieved the pressure somewhat, preparation work on the 107 acres in the Lower Cheakamus must begin this spring if a permanent village is to be finished on time for the 2010 Games.

Whistler is setting the stage for that work but it still needs to cross two major hurdles – provincial approval of the business plan, followed by the community’s approval.

There are few details of that plan because negotiations are taking place behind closed doors.

The gist of it, however, is that Whistler needs more money to fund the village. Whistler will get more than $45 million from VANOC to build it – $26 million outright for the development, $13 million for the athletes centre, and $6.5 million for First Nations housing.

The current plan sees the athletes village development turned into employee housing after the Olympics, all of which will be sold to offset the cost of development.

While it is still not clear how much the athletes village will cost, the current funding plus the sale of the houses after the Games, does not add up to the cost of development. Mayor Melamed would not elaborate on how much the funding is short.

"The premier went through our business plan line by line," said Melamed. "He’s fully engaged in it."

But the Whistler delegation was told that provincial support of the plan hinges on federal support too.

"One of the things (the premier) did say to us is resolution is contingent on federal government participation," said Melamed. "And so they can’t make a decision unless they get the nod from Ottawa."

It is unclear what "federal participation" means at this time.

Whistler’s MLA Joan McIntyre was in last Wednesday’s meeting. Like the mayor she could not discuss any details other than to say there was a feeling of goodwill in the room.

"Whistler is an important partner," she said. "It appears that we’re all committed to make this succeed."

But time is of the essence. Melamed is hoping for the provincial go-ahead before May so that community consultation can happen.

"We’re getting everything ready and rest assured we’re taking it to the community so they will have a chance to look at it," said Melamed.

"And we’ve impressed upon the province we need time for that."

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