The party’s over, but there won’t be a hangover March 3, 2010Posted by admin in : Bill Bennett , comments closed
An Olympic hangover can last for years, if not generations. Just ask some other host cities and countries.
Beijing’s half-billion-dollar Birds Nest, the spaceship-like stadium at the centre of the 2008 Olympics, has yet to find a real use. It’s now serving as a winter amusement park. They might make it into a mall.
Athens’ 2004 Games left a crippling debt, the tipping point that pushed Greece into its current financial crisis. Its billion-dollar venues are hardly used.
In 2000, Sydney held one of the best Olympics ever. But when the party was over, they found there was little use for the stadium and that there was a billion-dollar-plus debt, too.
Let’s not forget Montreal, host of the 1976 Games that left the city in a debt that took a quarter of a century to pay down.
They still don’t know how to make money out of the Olympic Stadium — the Big Owe.
A common thread in all the examples above is these were cities that held the Summer Olympics, a truly mega event that often spins its way into financial disaster.
For a while Vancouver’s business leaders considered hosting a Summer Games, too, in conjunction with Seattle.
Luckily, some perspective prevailed. We bid for the other Olympics, the Winter Games, which are smaller and carry much less financial risk.
In fact, it’s starting to look like the 2010 Games just might offer up a new model for holding a Games, proving a Winter Olympics can be an economic catalyst.
We’ll have to wait years to measure what the precise spinoffs of these Games are. In the meantime, we now have to face some sobering economic news in the provincial budget today. Deep cuts are expected to be part of the plan to rebalance the provincial government’s deficit spending.
But what seems clear is there won’t be any serious Olympic hangover in economic terms. Instead, these Games have set a new standard — with limited construction cost over-runs contained early on — on how to leverage the Winter Olympics as an urban development model for a mid-size city, as Vancouver is.
Most Olympic host cities and countries expend most of their energy on winning a bid, building costly venues and then holding the Games.
Much less attention has usually gone into the so-called legacy of an Olympics.
But Vancouver’s Olympic Organizing Committee, and the provincial government, spent energy on the legacy question from the start, seeing the Games as a catalyst for public infrastructure projects and policy initiatives that will endure.
We’ve got the Canada Line, built on time and ahead of schedule. Linking Richmond, Vancouver and the International Airport, it is as significant as the SkyTrains that were built for Expo 86 that helped shape Metro Vancouver’s growth.
There’s the Sea to Sky Highway, creating a safer and faster highway from Whistler to Vancouver.
Whistler may be a well-known resort, but it has never had the publicity it has received during these Olympics.
Once the financial woes of Intrawest are sorted out, the highway is likely to bring about another boost in tourism and more resort development along the corridor.
The $900-million Vancouver Convention Centre, once a controversy for coming in at double its budget, is now clearly an anchor for Vancouver’s convention trade.
Thanks to the Olympics, any question about Vancouver being able to host a major event, where tens of thousands of conventioneers come to town, has been laid to rest.
What we don’t appear to have are any white elephants. Even the $178-million Richmond oval, which was about $100 million more than first forecast, is seen as a community centre and new riverfront focus for future development.
Finally, the Olympics have given first nations unprecedented profile in modern British Columbia.
One thousand people an hour moved through their pavilion. They have taken a key role in all official aspects of the Games and their message is clear: first nations are now woven into the future economic development of British Columbia and, more importantly, most of those aboriginal leaders are keen to do business.
Winter Games have historically been seen as the tiny Olympics.
Vancouver has shown that, in fact, they can be huge.
By Miro Cernetig