GNWT gets on board with bid for Games

Athletes village, new pool among not-accounted-for costs in new estimate for national event

Evan Kiyoshi French | SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
January 16, 2015
Mayor Mark Heyck, left, and Robert C. McLeod, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, speak at a public forum to announce they're considering a partnership to bring the 2023 Canada Winter Games to the city. - Evan Kiyoshi French/NNSL photo

Mayor Mark Heyck, left, and Robert C. McLeod, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, speak at a public forum to announce they’re considering a partnership to bring the 2023 Canada Winter Games to the city. – Evan Kiyoshi French/NNSL photo

The territorial government is now officially on board with the city’s bid for the 2023 Canada Winter Games, but questions remain on who exactly will be footing the bill.

Much hinges on the construction of an athletes’ village and swimming pool. The athletes’ village was originally estimated by the city last November to cost $23 million, although some officials now peg that figure at closer to $30 million. The city estimates a new pool will cost around $30 million.

Grant White, director of corporate affairs for the city, said the funding formula to host the Games is $35.8 million – significantly less than the $52 million estimate from November. He said the new scenario removes most of the cost of building an athletes’ village, which the GNWT is now considering to take on, and includes some new figures related to capital costs.

The funding formula includes funding from all three levels of government, plus corporate sponsorship.

David Stewart, president of the NWT Housing Corporation, said the GNWT justifies subtracting the athletes’ village, which would have to be built for the city to win the bid, from the total cost of the Games because the demand for affordable housing is so high and the GNWT would like to convert the athletes’ village into public housing after the Games.

“In terms of any incremental housing project that would be used for an athletes’ village and then become a housing project, it needs to stand on its own merit of a housing project,” he said.

Mayor Mark Heyck says the athletes’ village is a “big, big component.”

“We’re very encouraged by the fact that the territorial government is beginning discussions about what (it) might have in its capital plan, and what needs replacing here in Yellowknife, that could ultimately serve as an athletes’ village if we proceed.”

But Robert C. McLeod, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) and the housing corporation, said it’s too early to say how much the GNWT will spend to build the athletes’ village, or if it could even foot the bill.

“It is on the radar and it’s something we’re looking at,” he said. “GNWT Housing Corporation is looking at ways, within its programs, for ways it can assist.”

Stewart said looking at what Whitehorse did when it hosted the Games can provide an indication of costs.

“When you look at the (athletes’ village) model in the Yukon, which was something like 96 units, it was around $34 million dollars, and that was a few years ago, but it gives you a ballpark anyway,” he said.

He said if the city decides to bid on the event, the GNWT could build units that could be used as seniors’ or student housing after the Games are over.

“In other words we wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a need for a longer-term housing project,” he said. “In Yellowknife in particular, there clearly is a need for affordable housing for seniors. It’s something that clearly will be a demand-area for the housing corporation.”

Coun. Niels Konge, who was at a funeral in Manitoba and couldn’t attend the forum last Friday in which the GNWT came out in support of the city in the bidding process, said he doesn’t buy the estimates put forward by the city and the GNWT, and he won’t support the plan until he sees a formal business model.

“They’re wild-ass guesses, that’s all they’re using right now,” he said.

“I don’t care if the dollar value is a million dollars, if there isn’t a good business-case for it, and if it’s not going to make sense for the taxpayers of Yellowknife, I’m not going to vote for it. I don’t care if it’s a dollar, a million dollars, or $36 million, if I don’t believe it makes sense for the taxpayers … I’m not going to vote for it.”

Konge added he’s positive the event would cost taxpayers money.

“If I don’t get good information, that I think is truthful information, then I vote no, and I don’t think we’ve seen that yet.”

City council is responsible for approving the bid, which is expected to be on the table this fall but not until after the municipal election Oct. 19.

Construction of a new swimming pool is not included in the total cost of the event, but Heyck said the building was already slated for replacement in the year of the Games.

However completion would need to be bumped up to 2020, and would need to be built to a standard suitable for the multi-sport event.

Heyck said building the pool built sooner wouldn’t cost more than originally planned.

White said city staff don’t have an estimate for the cost of the pool, but said the closest estimate he could give is based on the new pool project in Iqaluit with a price tag of $30 million.

“It wouldn’t really cost any more,” said Heyck.

“It would probably cost us a little bit less given construction inflation. We would bring the standard of the pool up regardless. It’s not going to be built to a higher standard than we would otherwise do.”

Konge said if inflation is a real concern the pool should be built right now.

“How come we don’t do it immediately if it’s going to save taxpayers?” he said.

“The question is, do we need it? Can we keep using the pool we have, is it sufficient for what we need?

“That money is coming out of somebody’s pockets,” he said.

“If we have the money do we really want to spend it on two weeks of glory?”