BC 2030 Olympics' potential legacies of housing and transportation pondered

Apr 26 2021, 10:13 pm

BC leaders in business, tourism, and sport convened earlier this month for a virtual public discussion on how hosting the 2030 Olympic Winter Games could align with the province’s long-term goals, while also providing a jump start to the battered tourism industry after the pandemic.

During an event held by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, former VANOC president and CEO John Furlong maintained that the Games could be re-hosted in Metro Vancouver, Whistler, and possibly elsewhere in the province as the sports venues and infrastructure already exist, and more importantly because of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) flexible reforms on hosting requirements.

The capital costs associated with the direct needs of hosting the Games could be very minimal, but 2030 would also provide an opportunity to expedite priorities in Metro Vancouver that would otherwise be fulfilled over the longer term.

“The premise for a 2030 Olympic and Paralympic bid is rooted on the fundamental notion that we can and will use existing facilities and venues, and involve new communities. A regional Games, a BC Games. There would be no taxpayer funding requested for venue construction. We have what we need, indeed more than what we need,” said Furlong.

“This is not to say governments may indeed to choose to leverage the Games as a catalyst to support and deliver funding for badly needed projects, such as social housing or public transportation.”

First Nations involvement and Vancouver Olympic Village 2.0

Furlong says there have been early discussions between his group of bid proponents and the City of Vancouver on ensuring First Nations are a key partner, including the potential of using their upcoming planned developments to fulfill an Olympic Village to house athletes and officials.

Specifically, the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations are the owners of the 21-acre Heather Lands in the Cambie Street Corridor, and the 90-acre Jericho Lands in West Point Grey. High-density, multi-family residential developments are planned for both sites, with the Heather Lands project currently much further along in the municipal government’s review process.

A partnership could be engaged with the First Nations’ development corporation to build additional homes not only quicker but at a higher level of affordability, such as rental housing, below-market rental housing, and social housing.

“While the Games accommodation needs are generally very modest, each country tends to deliver accommodation that best meets the needs of its post-Games requirements,” said Furlong, calling the alignment of “Olympic needs and timing resulting in a win-win legacy for housing.”

“The Games simply adapts the available housing configuration and general standard. If it was determined that post-Games accommodation was purposed to help achieve very specific affordable housing needs here, then the Games would simply adapt to that scenario and plan accordingly.”

Vancouver Olympic Village construction

A sea of cranes in Southeast False Creek near downtown Vancouver in December 2007 for the construction of the Vancouver Olympic Village. (Al Harvey/Flickr)

Furlong recollected the involvement of the local Four Host First Nations during the 2010 Games, which participated in all aspects of bidding, organizing, and governance, and were even recognized as the heads of state.

“What we did with the 2010 Olympics was amazing,” said Brenda Baptiste, chair of Indigenous Tourism BC and a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band. “The Four Host First Nations were such inspiring leaders of that movement, and it truly was a movement that changed the way Indigenous people worked with not only the Olympics, which had never been done before, but also with municipalities, creating so many opportunities on so many levels for our youth, elders, and that cultural representation that was so incredible. There were also economic and business development opportunities, and a growth in Indigenous tourism.”

“The opportunities is how to take this further… How can we take this further and continue to grow on that?”

The Olympic Village in Southeast False Creek is now deemed as a model mixed-use neighbourhood and a blueprint for the area’s continued growth, radiating outwards from the 2010-built core.

The other half of the 2010 accommodations for athletes and officials was, of course, located at Whistler, in the Cheakamus Valley. After the Games, hundreds of units became affordable resort employee housing, which had the measurable effect of pushing rents across the community downwards.

Whistler is now in the process of doubling the size of this neighbourhood that began with the construction of the Olympic Village, creating more rental beds for employees.

“If done correctly and if the goal is to deliver again as we did before, 2030 could deeply benefit our community, and I think other communities could be considering it,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton.

“We went after employee housing, we got employee housing, and we held on to employee housing.”

Whistler Olympic Village

Whistler Olympic Village during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. (Green Building Brain)

Public transit and tourism infrastructure

Furlong suggested the 2030 Games could fast track the project of extending SkyTrain from the future Arbutus Station to the University of British Columbia.

“This is the universal phenomenon of the  Games, they typically cause transformational thinking and generally deliver badly needed infrastructure in time for the arrival of the world in the host communities,” he said.

Jane Bird, the former CEO of Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc., the TransLink subsidiary that oversaw the design and construction of the Canada Line, brought up showcasing the region’s green infrastructure, including her very specific idea of fulfilling the municipal government’s plan for a Waterfront Station transit hub and precinct in time for the Games.

She also noted the idea of potentially expanding Vancouver Convention Centre eastward, which would otherwise be land locked from any further expansion opportunities if this site — immediately north of Waterfront Station — were not pursued.

“It’s dear to my heart as I never felt Waterfront Station in downtown was built out as part of the Canada Line, the way that we might have hoped,” said Bird.

“I could see a real downtown hub where we bring together the Canada Line, Expo Line, SeaBus, and perhaps an expanded convention centre, and really develop that hub in downtown in a creative and breathtaking kind of way. That felt to me like an opportunity that was there for the taking, and you could only do so much.”

Vancouver Central Waterfront Hub Framework

Artistic rendering of the transit concourse at Waterfront Station. (City of Vancouver)

An economic engine for the restart of tourism

Furlong described the 2030 Games as a “hopeful way forward” that provides the “community an optimistic focus, confidence boost, a lofty goal that we can rally around, and a well-funded COVID rebound and recovery initiative.”

It would particularly help rebuild the decimated tourism and hospitality industry, which is one of the largest employers in the province.

He also noted that the activity from the lead-up to the 2010 Games has been widely credited for blunting the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

Royce Chwin, the president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, suggested there will be an uphill battle to rebuild tourism to the level it was prior to the pandemic, and that its resurgence will not be automatic after local health and international travel restrictions come to an end. He says strong policy directions and investment are needed to not only re-enable tourism but determine how long it would take to rebuild the industry.

“It took decades to build where tourism was in 2019, before it collapsed quite frankly. It’s going to take not just three or four years to return to 2019, should we even get back to that, but how do you invest to get into a different future moving forward,” said Chwin.

“Something like the Games, the dollars involved, provides the catalyst and media platform that we would never be able to afford that would have Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia in the conversation, where the world would be looking in as we work towards those Games. I like what that does for our opportunity to restart this sector.”

vancouver 2010 olympic torch relay lions gate bridge

Day 105 – Torchbearer Turner Seward carries the flame in Stanley Park, Vancouver. (VANOC/City of Vancouver Archives)

As many as nine BC cities could jointly host the 2030 Games

Without a major venue construction program and with the IOC’s reforms, Furlong is putting forward the idea that there could be as many as eight to nine communities across BC involved in the hosting of 2030. This is up from four in 2010, when the sports venues were located in Vancouver, West Vancouver, Richmond, and Whistler.

The Games would still be largely centred in Metro Vancouver and Whistler using existing facilities built f0r 2010, and any additional communities seeking to be included would have to prepare itself to become “Olympic-ready.”

“Communities that wish to be included as aspiring venue communities may well petition existing infrastructure schemes or various senior governments for support so that they can be come compliant with Games needs or if you prefer to become Olympic communities,” he said.

“The vision for 2030 is a radical shift away from what used to be. Cost, structure, and scope all very different. The compact plan of 2010 abandoned and replaced by a regional, more inclusive plan that focuses on delivering a province-wide experience and advantage.”

whistler blackcomb

Whistler Celebration Plaza after the Olympics. (Shutterstock)

Furlong added that there would also be cost efficiencies from an experienced organizing committee (OCOG) that can hit the ground running, suggesting a 2030 OCOG that is led by former VANOC members and other sports hosting professionals.

VANOC had 51 small business units, but the OCOG for 2030 could be smaller in size given its less complex project scope. Much of the operating costs, which Furlong believes can be fully funded by the private sector and other non-public sources, comes from the staffing costs of the large OCOG workforce.

“Why spend significant dollars on planning to build out business units such as legal, technology, marketing, ticketing, and communications, government relations, finance, and more when you have a plan in the drawer ready to be refined,” said Furlong.

“For 2010, we started at ground zero. Organizing committees typically use the full 6.5 years to learn how to run the Games, each business unit has to learn their scope of work and recruit significant staff to support and execute their planning. It’s a tough process, but with the experience that exists now, we don’t have to learn the process again. We can bring experienced people on board when they are needed and not before. This is a significant cost reduction given that people is one of the most significant costs facing any OCOG.”

VANOC headquarters

Interior design of VANOC’s 2010 Campus at 3585 Graveley Street in East Vancouver, now used as the headquarters of the Vancouver Police Department. The office spanned 180,000 sq. ft. and employed over 2,000 people by 2010. (SSDG Interiors)

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