Foggy future for B.C. venues

By BOB MACKIN. QMI Agency



VANCOUVER -- "No white elephants" was the mantra when 2010 Winter Olympics organizers began to build in 2003.

On the first anniversary of the Games, locals have a menagerie of venues in various states of use.

Yes, there are even some pale pachyderms.

B.C. Place Stadium -- where the Games opened Feb. 12, 2010 and closed 17 days later -- is undergoing a $458-million retractable-roof retrofit to be complete by the fall. Across False Creek, the Vancouver Olympic Village is in receivership over $740 million that developer Millennium owes City Hall. An aggressive marketing campaign failed to sell 474 of the luxury condominiums that housed international athletes.

Pacific Coliseum, the figure skating and short-track venue, has reverted to the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants. Thunderbird Arena is host of University of B.C. men's and women's hockey games and little else. Meanwhile, Rogers has bought naming rights to the Vancouver Canucks' home, which was known as Canada Hockey Place during the Games.

Arena seating at curling's Vancouver Olympic Centre is being replaced by a mix of hockey and curling rinks.

The $178-million Richmond Olympic Oval is now a misnomer. Its speed skating track was removed last spring in favour of hockey rinks, basketball courts and a running track. The marquee venue has been host to a wheelchair rugby world championship and local cheerleading meet.

"We're never going to be competing with Rogers Arena for events, we're going to be principally a mass-participation centre," Oval general manager John Mills said. "But we will have a number of events that will range from 500 to 3,000 people. There's tremendous potential here, it can be converted into a variety of configurations."

The Oval is one of three beneficiaries of the $110-million Games Operating Trust, a fund to keep dedicated venues open beyond 2010. The Oval, which has 2,500 members, is entitled to 40%. Whistler Sport Legacies can draw upon another 40% to operate the Sliding Centre and Olympic Park. WSL took control of those two venues last May and they're the only ones built specifically for the Olympics that remain largely intact.

The sloped track on Blackcomb was host of the only post-Games World Cup of any Olympic winter sport -- last November for skeleton and bobsled. That event is scheduled to return in 2012. A luge World Cup and world championship are also in the works for 2012 and 2013.

A cloud remains over the venue from the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on Games' opening day. Sheets of plywood and padding added after the tragedy are a reminder. The province's coroner called the death accidental but ordered a track safety audit. WSL president Keith Bennett said that report is expected in August.

In the meantime, the track has provincial approval to offer three-hour skeleton courses for $130, which include two runs down part of the track.

"I have tried it as part of the testing program, it's exhilarating and comfortable," Bennett said. "It's not terrifying by any stretch."

The Whistler Olympic Park in the idyllic Callaghan Valley drew upwards of 1,000 people during the Christmas holidays to cross-country ski, snowshoe or walk their dogs on the Olympic trails, Bennett said. The biathlon shooting range is also open. The ski jumps, however, are dormant. WSL is hoping to reach an agreement with Ski Jumping Canada, which has Own the Podium funding, to activate the chairlift, grooming machines and ramp refrigeration.

Other snow venues are not so fortunate.

The Dave Murray downhill course at Whistler Creekside -- the ski hill created for Vancouver's original 1968 bid -- was decommissioned. The halfpipe where American superstar Shaun White won gold at Cypress Mountain was demolished because neither the resort nor the Canadian Snowboarding Federation wanted to pay for maintenance. The freestyle runs remain, but Calgary was the closest the World Cup moguls and aerials came after the Games.

bob.mackin@sunmedia.ca