Vancouver Olympic Village opened to public

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER - The Olympic spirit returned to False Creek Saturday when the $1.1 billion Olympic Village opened to the public.

Volunteers dressed in their blue “Smurf” outfits reunited while thousands of curious locals stood in long lines to see the where athletes from around the world slept in luxury during February’s Winter Olympics. Medals, torches, banners and pins were on display as Canadian Olympians signed autographs. One of the giant inflatable beavers from the Olympic closing ceremony came back to life. VANOC chief executive John Furlong gave a ceremonial key to the 1,100-unit complex back to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

“You have surpassed our expectations so dramatically and gave us a Village like no other in all of history,” Furlong said.

The taxpayer-backed Village, also known as Millennium Water, was the most controversial and costly venue of the Vancouver Games.

In 2008, city council avoided a construction stoppage when it bailed out developer Millennium after financier Fortress Credit Corporation stopped lending. The project was refinanced in 2009 by a TD-led syndicate.

Marketer Bob Rennie said 263 residential units were sold before the Games. He expects to sell the remaining 474 this year and next for between $500,000 and $10 million each. Planned retail outlets include TD Canada Trust, London Drugs and an Urban Fare supermarket. A waterfront community centre is one of three buildings designed by late architect Arthur Erickson.

Robertson is confident the city will repay the loan because the energy-saving green features and Southeast False Creek location will attract buyers.

“This is a very high-quality development and is on the waterfront,” Robertson said. “It has so many great qualities and it’s a premier address in Vancouver.’”

Housing advocates were not celebrating. They briefly delayed the ceremony to protest the decrease in planned social housing rentals from 800 units in 2006 to just 126 now.

The Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest urban neighbourhood, is less than 2 kilometres from the Village. In April, Robertson and his left-leaning Vision Vancouver majority council decided to rent half the available low-income units to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses and teachers.

“Those who survive on the street are fully aware that that cops who ticket and harass them on the beat get to enjoy the fine Olympic legacy housing that was once designated for them,” said Dave Diewert, dressed as a town crier and reading from a scroll. “All the while, the city officials applaud and approve this pattern of settlement even as they publicly express their determination to eliminate homelessness.”

Vancouver-born Ashleigh McIvor, who won Olympic gold in skicross, stayed on-site for a month and said athletes “were definitely spoiled.”

“We don’t stay in very nice places on the world cup circuit,” McIvor said.

Asked whether she could afford to move-in permanently, she said: “I was like, can I trade my gold medal for one of these things? I think it’s a bit of a longshot.”

bob.mackin@sunmedia.ca

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