Sun, Aug 23, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Olympic athletes’ villages give organizer gray hair

THE GAMES MUST GO ON: Staying on schedule for the Winter Games became difficult when construction prices started rising and the economy began to slow

AP , VANCOUVER

A housing unit is pictured at the athletes’ village for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada, on Thursday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

One’s billed as an urban oasis, the other an Alpine escape.

One is millions of dollars over budget, the other raking in the cash.

It’s a tale of two very different athletes’ villages for next year’s Winter Olympics, but among the things they have in common is this: Both have given Nejat Sarp a full head of gray hair.

“Half is for Whistler and the other half is for Vancouver,” said Sarp, vice president of services and villages for the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

With six months until the Games, the athletes’ village in Vancouver and the one in Whistler are expected to be completed on time for the organizing committee to take over in November.

Together, they will house about 5,000 athletes and officials and provide services from post offices to play rooms.

Vancouver’s is all glass and steel, overlooking False Creek near downtown; Whistler is wooden homes against a backdrop of trees and mountains.

“We have to have a sense of place so that people know that not only am I attending an Olympics or Paralympics, that not only am I in Canada, nor only am I in BC, but I’m also in Whistler or in Vancouver,” Sarp said.

In Vancouver, the village site encompasses space for a dining hall that will later become a grocery store for the housing complex.

In Whistler, athletes will eat inside a jumbo tent.

POST-GAMES

The development in Whistler also includes an athletic center aimed at having athletes return to the mountain resort after the Games. There is also temporary housing that will be moved to other areas of the province after the Olympics.

Building villages in Vancouver and Whistler was part of the original bid for the Winter Games; transporting athletes in Vancouver to the host mountain resort was impractical and expensive.

Each village was designed with state-of-the-art environmental features.

The organizing committee is contributing funds to both projects — US$28 million to Vancouver and US$35 million to Whistler — the two villages were largely the responsibility of the respective communities to finance and build.

Whistler’s village is built on land donated by the government specifically for residential housing; Vancouver’s is built on prime inner-city real estate that cost a development company US$178 million.

The financing for construction of Vancouver’s village was at first almost entirely a private loan that was to be repaid from the proceeds of selling off 735 of the housing units following the Games. There are also 250 units of social housing and 120 rental suites.

Whistler chose to pay for its village through a combination of government money, tax revenues and post-Games resale.

MONEY WOES

Vancouver’s money woes began when construction costs started rising. Then the economy began to slow, and last autumn the financial company backing the developers began refusing to pay their loan.

A project originally expected to cost US$693 million was nudging toward US$924 million. And without the city stepping in, the job wasn’t going to get done. At the same time, sales of the units halted.

All the while, the development in Whistler continued below the radar.

The not-for-profit development company entrusted with building the complex of town homes, condominiums and rental units negotiated its loan with the BC Municipal Finance Authority, not private bankers.

Sales were strong from the start and now 97 percent of the 240 units are sold.

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