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First the party; now the hangover

Olympic flame in a photograph by Linda Solomon

The City of Vancouver has released a report with the cost estimates for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. While there have been council reports focused on costs over the past seven years, this is the first that compiles the total costs associated with the Games, according to the City's website. And the costs, it turns out, are larger than expected.

The report provides a summary of the costs that went into prepping Vancouver for the Games. The City’s total expenditures were $554.3 million. The bulk of these expenses – more than $500 million – went toward capital infrastructure like transit upgrades, downtown beautification and the Olympic Village. About $30 million was spent on city operations during the Games.

City Councilor Geoff Meggs attributed  cost overruns to a "let it roll" attitude that he said characterized the previous mayor, Sam Sullivan, and the NPA-dominated city council that was primarily responsible for preparing the city for the Winter Games.  Meggs described their attitude as reckless: "'It’s for the Olympics. It has to look good and let’s get it done. We’ll fix it later.'"

"It was ridiculously irresponsible," Meggs said Thursday.  "You had a situation where the staff would come back and they would justify a big expansion of the budget on the basis that the public expected a good facility. But it’s the council’s job to get a good, affordable facility.  It’s impossible to find a case where they said, 'We're going to cancel this aspect or roll back this part.' There never seems to have been a point where the Sullivan council said,  'How much is this costing and is it the right price?'"

 Was it in character for then-Mayor Sullivan? Or did he get carried away by the excitement of being at the centre of a major world event?

"We know that, in some cases, they designed and built at the same time," said Meggs. He gave the example of social housing in the Olympic Village, "where the initial price of $65 million became $110 million." And the first-term Vision councilor who was not on council when Sullivan was mayor, worries the cost of the development will continue to escalate. "We still have to make a decision about how to subsidize rents and that’s an additional cost."

"I think there was a willingness on the part of the Sullivan council to take staff at its word, take things on faith and go behind closed doors when in doubt.  The main things that I found troubling where made public by the Robertson council and done by the Sullivan council, [who] didn’t make their spending decisions in public."

"The Olympic Village civic centre was budgeted for $24 million but ultimately cost $36 million.  The Salt Building... they initially thought they could fix it up for $6.5 million and it cost over $15 million. I think the Olympics were good for Vancouver and a huge boost and I know we are going to enjoy these projects for a long time, but I think we should have had a better budgeting process."

"We could have done better," Meggs said.

"The costs are intense, especially when you realize that our school board is scraping by, trying to find $20 million to cut from already overburdened classrooms," David Eby, executive director of the Britisih Columbia Civil Liberties Association wrote Wednesday on his blog.

Capital funds for the Olympics involved upgrading or building new infrastructure and civic facilities such as the Hillcrest facility and practice ice rinks at Trout Lake, Killarney and Britannia recreation centres. Non-competition infrastructure legacies included such facilities as the community centre and a renewable energy project in southeast False Creek, the Olympic Village Canada Line station, the renovation of Granville Street and a robust public art program.

An additional $175 million investment was leveraged by the City from other levels of government and the private sector, including sponsors, according to a city press release. This represents a 24 per cent leveraging of funds expended, meaning that for every $100 spent on the total cost of the project, $24 came from external partners outside the City of Vancouver.




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