The City of Whitehorse is onboard with plans to bid for the chance to host the 2027 Canada Winter Games, but did not agree to the full financial contribution requested by the bid committee.
Since September 2021, Whitehorse and the rest of the Yukon have been on the road to entering a bid for the games. That bid was submitted on Sept. 23, but it was contingent on the approval of partnership with the Yukon government and an accompanying financial contribution by Whitehorse’s council at their Sept. 26 meeting. Council had been presented with the draft of the bid on Sept. 20 and left to consider and discuss the Games’ costs and benefits for the city and the territory.
Plans for the Games include an athletes’ village complex to be built at Yukon University for a cost of between $60 and $70 million that would then be used for student housing. Construction would also see Takhini Arena replaced with a new two-rink facility that early, vague estimates found would cost about $115 million. The Games’ operating budget has been tentatively set at $37 million. At an earlier meeting council had heard that if ground was not broken on Games-related projects next year it could cause missed deadlines or other problems.
On the other side of the balance sheet, council heard that the Games could generate $80 million to $110 million in economic activity as almost 4,000 people visited the territory.
Prior to their deliberation on finalizing the bid at the Sept. 26 meeting, Whitehorse’s council heard from Yukon government representatives Damien Burns, Gareth Earl and Megan Cromarty. The delegates fielded further questions regarding the costs of the Games and the division of responsibilities between the Yukon government and the city when it comes to organization and funding the Games.
They fielded questions from Coun. Ted Laking about the various building layout and seating configurations being considered as possibilities for the arena complex. They were also asked about the financial contribution being requested of the City of Whitehorse: about $17 million.
Burns said that the $17 million number was arrived at based on a rough estimate of the cost of constructing two floors of space for city facilities or infrastructure in the proposed ice rink complex. He said the cost was roughly estimated at $14 million and a 25 per cent financial contingency brings that up to the $17 million figure.
Further questions dealt with the features of various plans for the Takhini Arena complex and the future maintenance and upgrade costs associated with the building. The planned replacement would put the Takhini Arena out of action for two years. Coun. Melissa Murray asked about the plans to mitigate that with an outdoor rink. Earl said a number of options are being considered for this. Laking asked about cost and Earl replied that a rough estimate of $3 million was in place for an outdoor rink featuring amenities such as a dressing room and concession stand.
Asked about the financial risks of the project by Coun. Dan Boyd, Burns replied that his department of the Yukon government intends to manage the infrastructure projects for the games and so take on most of the financial liability.
Burns said the Yukon government is still in discussion with its federal partners and the true costs of putting on the games are still being evaluated and more decisions will have to be made in the future. He described what had been presented to council as “very good cost estimates,” and said the exact amount of the costs that will be coming from the federal government is also being assessed.
With their questions answered by the Yukon government representatives, council discussed the matter and prepared to vote on the approval of submitting the bid and making budget preparations for contributing to the games.
Boyd promptly proposed an amendment to what was being voted on, setting the city’s maximum initial contribution at $11 million and otherwise proceeding in the same way. He said it was important that the public have a rough number in front of them regarding what the city was set to spend on the Games and noted that correspondence from the Yukon government suggested that their $17 million request was not a firm demand.
Answering a question from Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu, Whitehorse city manager Jeff O’Farrell said that where exactly a contribution to the games would come from would be decided in the city’s capital budgetting process. He said that before November, the city would have to decide the total it would provide for the games. Council would be informed of the options of how it might pay for it by city staff at a later date.
Coun. Kirk Cameron spoke highly of the benefits in housing and arena infrastructure that hosting the Games would bring and expressed his support for moving forward even if the cost to Whitehorse exceeded the $17 million requested.
Laking expressed concerns about increasing costs, noting that the $11 million was referred to as an initial contribution. He invoked the recent scrapping of the city’s city hall replacement plans amid sharply rising costs. Laking also said he is concerned about where the contribution would come from within the city’s forthcoming budget and how other challenges like the temporary replacement of the ice rink at Takhini would be dealt with.
Boyd replied that because the Yukon government would be underwriting the costs of all the projects, he does not agree with Laking’s view. He added that due to the time crunch created by the bid process and construction timelines, this is a decision council would have to make without complete information.
“I think we have enough information in front of us to proceed with a bid question and that we will never get all the answers to make us all sleep well at night and believe everything is just going to be be perfect. I think that’s an unrealistic expectation,” Boyd said
The amendment capping the initial contribution at $11 million was passed with only Cameron opposed and then after further discussion, council approved the motion with only Laking voting against it.
“We need to worry about the legacy we leave taxpayers,” said Laking in a statement circulated to media the day after the meeting.
“When we don’t even know how much hosting the Games is going to cost us, I worry about the negative impacts this will have on the future affordability in our city. It is important to remember that projects associated with the games will be entirely funded by taxpayers and the idea of running headlong into debt and tax increases without answers to key questions is very risky.”
With the city on board, the next major step in the process will be an in-person visit by the bid evaluation comittee that is set for October.
Piers McDonald, the chair of the Whitehorse bid committee, said he was pleased that the City of Whitehorse and the Yukon government are proceeding, but said an unconditional agreement to build more housing and ice sheets will be necessary for the bid evaluators to approve the plan for the Games.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com