Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Piers McDonald balanced an array of heavy-duty financial proposals with a dose of empathetic candidness when he appeared before members of city council on Tuesday evening.
With athletics being the underlying theme, the chair of the 2027 Canada Winter Games committee fielded volleys of questions as council members prepare to vote next Monday on whether to support the committee’s bid to host the momentous event.
City administration has recommended that council lend its support to the initiative so the bid process can progress.
The proposed operating budget for the Games is $37 million. At least 2,000 athletes would compete in up to 22 sports.
The Yukon government has indicated it would expect the city to contribute about $17 million to the event, council members were told.
An estimated $9 million in upgrades is envisoned for several of the city’s existing recreational facilities excluding the planned new gymnastics facility, which the Yukon government is financing.
“The tradeoffs you have to determine are challenging,” McDonald told the meeting of the city’s standing committees.
“You are in a tough situation, and I feel for you.”
He described the initiative as a “full-body workout. Yes, this is a huge financial and organizational effort. It will require a lot of work and a lot of people to make it work.”
He later added, “Obviously, you can only afford so much.”
The bid proposes a new arena, estimated to cost $115 million, and $60 million to $70 million in accommodations for the athletes that would become affordable housing after the Games.
“These would be long-term community assets,” McDonald said.
“Nobody in their right mind” would spend so many millions of dollars simply to stage a two-week event, he added.
Of all the plans, he said, the construction of the new arena would represent the most enormous challenge. It would have to be finisned by early 2026.
“If construction is not started next year, there would be challenges,” he cautioned.
It would cost the city an estimated $800,000 per year to operate the new arena, for which there’s an assumed 40-year lifespan. That’s double the cost of operting the Takhini Arena, which opened in the mid-1980s.
The committee’s preference is the razing of the Takhini Arena and the construction of two new ice rinks, McDonald said. That way, the rinks could be positioned on the site in the most efficient way that would maximize parking space.
For the estimated 2 1/2 to three years the Takhini Arena would either be gone or would be undergoing extensive renovations, McDonald said, the committee envisions building a covered, outdoor rink for $1 million to $2 million to give users some sort of facility “so there is some ice time when there is decent weather.”
Regardless of what happens at the arena site, the city has no plans to pause the improvements set for the Two Mile Hill-Range Road intersection, council members were told.
The start of construction of the housing could be put off until late 2023, but would “ideally” begin by then, McDonald said. It wouldn’t have to completed until late 2026, he said.
Coun. Dan Boyd said “many buildings are taking about three years to get built.” More contractors had to be called in to finish the athletes’ village housing in time for the 2007 Games, he noted.
“We don’t have a lot of time, the way I see it,” Boyd said.
McDonald replied that “four years is the minimum amount of time you would like to have. Any delays would put us under pressure.”
Mayor Laura Cabott, who participated in the meeting by phone, said the arena and affordable housing “are two legacy pieces we do need and don’t have.” She asked McDonald to discuss some of the economic impacts of hosting the Games.
“Some communities do better at localizing the economic impacts than others,” McDonald said. There are many “multiplier effects,” he added.
The economic benefits of the 2007 Games have been calculated at $120 million, he said.
With a labour shortage affecting many businesses in the territory, deputy mayor Jocelyn Curteanu wondered about the potential to recruit volunteers to help stage the Games.
“I suspect that would be a challenge,” McDonald said.
An estimated 400 to 500 part-time volunteers would be needed during the planning stages, and as many as 5,000 for the actual event.
“Some committees would be meeting every week for a few years,” McDonald conceded. “It is a big time commitment.
“I am hoping this community will rise to the occasion once again and do what it needs to do.”
If the Games are hosted here, he added, the host society would be approaching governments to request the secondments of staff members to help the cause.
“While you are not obligated, there will be requests made to you to help.”
Curteanu also asked about the post-Games demand for such a large arena venue.
Krista Mroz, the city’s community programs supervisor, pointed out that after the Games, the city would be able to host such large events as tournaments and concerts that are beyond the capacity of the current facilities to handle.
Coun. Kirk Cameron called the entire venture “a really big deal ... we are a facing a price tag that is quite significant here.”
While the Yukon government enjoys budgets of roughly $2 billion per year, he said, “We don’t have the luxury to feed something this significant.”
Conversely, Cameron said, the Games afford youth the “incredible opportunity” to compete to the best levels they possibly can. His son has competed in two sets of Games, he added.
Young people can then move forward in ways that are local, national and international in scope, he added. “It’s absolutely infectious.”
He asked McDonald about the degree of private sector interest in taking part financially.
Organizers will “make the pitch,” McDonald said. “You don’t really know what the response will be. We have an ambitious target for the host society.”
Nonetheless, he added, with many other groups competing with a potential mega-event for community resources, “there are limits to what you can do without becoming a community pariah.”
International sponsors will be sought out first, he said.
For the 2007 Games, the city made a $8.4-million capital contribution, while the Yukon government provided $64 million.
Coun. Ted Laking wondered how the city’s participation in the 2027 Games would affect property tax rates.
Valerie Braga, the director of corporate services, said the city would have to examine its array of plans in other areas for the next few years to make specific determinations.
“Our reserves are in a healthy position, but we don’t have a ton of money for many of our projects,”she said.
A one-per-cent rise in property taxes generates another $600,000 in revenue for the city.
Cabott asked McDonald how some Yukon communities would benefit.
“We are looking to substantially increase our outreach to the communities,” McDonald said.
There would be a cultural component to the Games, he said, and a telecasting plan to “showcase” all the sports to Yukon audiences.
Organizers also expect a national TV audience, he added.
McDonald called the Games “a rare opportunity to come together,” with many of the athletes later graduating to world-class competitions.
The event would leave a number of legacies, he said, including the new facilities.
As well, “to compete on home turf for the athletes is life-changing for theselves and their families,” the chair said.
Encouraging people to leave their regular life routines and work with others they would not otherwise have met “I find very healthy ... it is transitional,” he said.
“Hence the desire to do it again” as a follow-up to the 2007 experience, he said.
As to the question of whether this is the right time to take on the Games, he said, “that is a question for the politicians to decide.”
The Canada Games Council will award the Games in November.
No other jurisdiction has offered to host the event.
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