Photo by Whitehorse Star
City council voted Monday to make an $11-million contribution to the 2027 Canada Winter Games, after two hours of discussion.
They talked about the benefits the Games would bring to Whitehorse, and legacy infrastructure that would be left behind, just like how the Canada Games Centre was a product of hosting the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
But it was clear the $11-million contribution does not include the cost of the in-kind contributions the city will be required to make, such as providing free transit and ice rentals.
In a letter to council, Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn has said an appropriate contribution by the city would be $17 million.
Yukon government representatives appeared before council Monday to outline some of the capital requirements, including the need for a fourth sheet of ice, and the Takhini Arena site is the best site for a fourth sheet.
Providing a new sheet of ice could involve substantial renovations of the Takhini Arena or the removal of the 36-year-old arena with the construction of a new arena.
The Star has learned the thinking today is that the Takhini Arena would be demolished and replaced with a new facility at a cost of $111 million.
There would also need to be a new athletes’ village built at a cost of $65 million.
Mayor Laura Cabott pointed out how the 2007 Games left behind valued infrastructure, saying it would be the same for the 2027 Games.
“You have to spend money to make money,” she said.
It was recognized that time is short, and there is no wiggle room to put off a decision.
It’s estimated it would take two years to build a new arena, and that it would have to be available one year before the Games so the city could host a mandatory test event.
Construction of a new arena is estimated to take two years, suggesting that requires construction to begin as early as next year to be ready for the test event.
Included in the plans for a new arena is the construction of a high-end outdoor rink facility at the Takhini Arena site to fill in the two-year gap left behind by the arena’s demolition.
Coun. Dan Boyd pointed out the Games committee requires a minimum of four ice sheets available in the host city.
The Yukon government, he said, has asked the federal government for a $150-million contribution to host the Games, which would include the cost of two new ice sheets.
Damion Burns, the assistant deputy minister of Community Development, told council the Games are being offered to the Yukon because it’s the territory’s turn in the rotation and Whitehorse is the only community with the infrastructure to host them.
A new arena, he said, would include a running track and 800 retractable seats.
Coun. Ted Laking expressed concern that the city could be called up to increase its contribution if the capital construction cost escalated beyond the $11 million.
Boyd noted, however, the Yukon government has agreed to underwrite any escalation in cost, which provides a huge pillow of comfort for the city.
The memorandum of understanding the city will now sign with the Yukon government to co-host the Games will note the city’s contribution will be $11 million, he noted.
Coun. Kirk Cameron said the benefits that hosting the Games would bring before, during and after the event would be huge.
There is a chance, he said, for the city to embrace a project and the Games that could stimulate $80 million to $100 million in economic activity for the city.
“It’s a huge opportunity for our city as an economic generator,” he said.
Cameron said it’s more than just an economic generator, in that it would leave behind another Games legacy asset.
Having grown up in Whitehorse, Cameron said he remembers when the Jim Light Arena on Fourth Avenue opened in the 1960s.
He noted how the kids in town used to go there to buy their pop and chips, and watch hockey.
“The social impact is much beyond the numbers,” he said. “We have another opportunity that will contribute more infrastructure for our growing city.”
The city, said Cameron, would be left with a facility that could host national events.
“We have a significant opportunity here,” he said.
Boyd noted how council and city staff have worked hard at building a financial surplus of $55 million, putting the city in a strong financial position to make the $11-million contribution as well as host the Games.
Burns said they do need to establish what the federal government contribution would look like.
“We hope to have that in the coming weeks,” he said.
City manager Jeff O’Farrell said this bid to host the Games is fundamentally different from the 2007 bid. In 2007, it was a joint bid by the Yukon government and the city, but this time around it’s only the city.
The Yukon government would be responsible for any costs beyond which the city agrees to in the memorandum of understanding, he said.
The mayor noted that after the Games, the $65 million worth of housing would immediately be turned into affordable housing. The city could not afford this – the same thing for the arena, she said.
Cabott said Mostyn’s letter asked council to let him know if it’s comfortable with a $17-million contribution.
Council’s decision to contribute $11 million has answered the question, she said.
See commentary in Opinion section.
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