With the years of effort, planning and logistics that went into the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, it could be easy to draw the conclusion that once Whistler Sport Legacies took over the venues it would be set up for success.
While the venues themselves have tremendous value, $270 million worth, once VANOC handed over the keys it had stripped these venues of operating infrastructure like telephone and data systems, which had been located in Vancouver.
To get up and running took dedication and effort and all these things can indeed be credited to those at the non-profit organization including outgoing president and CEO Keith Bennett.
It is truly a start-up organization despite what was in place before the transition to WSL and with Bennett set to retire at the end of this year, whoever takes on that role still has a challenging path ahead of them.
With the release of the first full year’s financial statements for Sport Legacies last week, it has become clear it costs an extra $2.7 million to run the sliding centre, athletes’ centre and Olympic park.
That money comes from an operating trust fund set up by the provincial and federal governments. That is forward thinking at its best – sometimes rare from government bodies but luckily not in this case.
Whistler’s venues and especially the sliding centre, with a $2.2-million operating deficit alone, are in need of those extra funds to continue into the future.
But it is the future that has a caveat to it. That trust fund is valued at an estimated $40 million for Whistler’s venues and WSL can apply for five per cent of a three-year rolling average of the fund.
With interest rates at record lows and with no indication that is going to change anytime in the near future, Whistler Sport Legacies will be challenged to pull that five per cent from it, according to Bennett.
The trust fund is not a saving grace and for it to serve as a sustainable source of funding into the future that means it will become increasingly important to develop the business model and programming at these venues.
The sliding centre’s first year is probably the worst in terms of expenses versus revenues that it will see because of the length of time it took to develop that program and get safety certifications from the province.
But program developments aside, these world-class venues, as a non-profit, do not have massive marketing departments or dollars to spend compared to comparable private operators.
As a result, the community of Whistler will have to embrace them and be passionate about the sports and events they are home to and share that with visitors and friends for these venues to be successful down the road.