Yellowknife mulls over Canada Winter Games bid

Yellowknife mulls over Canada Winter Games bid
Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck says city council will create a working group to conduct a feasibility study before submitting a bid for the 2023 Canada Winter Games.Photo: Jack Danylchuk.

Debates continue about Yellowknife’s potential bid for the 2023 Canada Winter Games (CWG), but it looks like the community is carefully and cautiously inching its way towards an approval.

City council members brought the matter to the public’s attention at a Jan. 9 information session, initiated by minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) Robert McLeod, where they addressed the creation of a working group to determine the feasibility of the games.

“Council’s position right now has been to take a fairly cautious and prudent approach because we don’t want to go down a path that’s just not feasible for us to move forward on an initiative like this,” said Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck. “We found it quite encouraging that the minister of MACA was keen to hold this meeting to get some info out there and to start that conversation about levels of support from different orders of government to make it possible to hold those games.”

In early 2014, the CEO of the CWGs and his mission staff assessed the city’s infrastructure and came up with a list of improvements needed to host the games effectively, based on a model of Whitehorse’s experience hosting the games in 2007.

It will now be up to the working group – to be composed of members of city council, territorial government and the NWT business community, tourism sector and sports sector – to analyze the needs and determine whether the city will enter a bid. They have until fall 2015 to make a decision.

“One of the questions that our council has had is the level of commitment from the territorial government in terms of supporting the games if they were to be held in Yellowknife,” Heyck said.

One of the top and most costly priorities would be developing an Athlete’s Village, which could run as high as $23 million. Heyck hopes this could be turned into a legacy project.

“The GNWT has internally initiated discussions about what’s in their long range capital plan in terms of buildings and accommodations in Yellowknife that might be slated for replacement over the next several years,” Heyck said. “Capital plans might be planned and coordinated in order to have something in place by 2023 that can be used as accommodations for athletes and coaches and then remain as…affordable housing or seniors housing. There’s a number of different end-uses it could potentially serve.”

Another important point of discussion is the identified improvement that would need to be made to the city’s pool.

“Our swimming pool is actually slated for replacement regardless in 2023,” Heyck said. “In the instance of that one facility, that project would just need to be bumped up two or three years to 2020, 2021 in order to be ready to go for the Canada Games.”

Upgrades to the Bristol Pit for snowboarding are also expected to run around $2.27 million. There has been discussion around the possibility of hosting the swimming and snowboarding events in Whitehorse, though accommodation and travel expenses would still need to be covered.

Improvements to the Yellowknife Ski Club are set to cost about $957,000, while a list of miscellaneous infrastructure upgrades are slated to run at about $385,000.

In total, with the exception of the Athlete’s Village, hosting the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Yellowknife is projected to cost $26.8 million. Both the federal organization Sport Canada and the GNWT are set to provide $9.42 million each, leaving Yellowknife with a tab of $7.9 million. And the investment might just be worth it; in the last decade, communities hosting the CWGs have realized a net surplus of at least $1 million.

The final requirement in question is the sourcing of about 4,000 volunteers needed to run the event. Heyck said he has already been in talks with other communities around the territory to enlist volunteers.

“I don’t think there’s anything insurmountable,” Heyck said, looking at the challenges ahead.

The rotating schedule through every province and territory means this might be Yellowknife’s last hope to host the biannual event until 2049.

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