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Vancouver Olympics bill: $800 million, $578 m, $554 m, depending how you count

April 16th, 2010 · 10 Comments

Great media frenzy yesterday, as people rushed to put out the news about the city’s report on its Olympic costs. My version here, including former mayor Philip Owen’s assessment. Those in the know will remember he and his council insisted the city shouldn’t have to pay for anything.

But some wildly varying numbers were used (along with wildly varying analysis on whether it was all worth it or not), depending on what you decided to count as the total Olympic expense.

Some people used $729 — that was the total bill, according to the report, for everything the city did, but it got $175 million back in federal and provincial grants, plus private-sector payments (e.g. to put up pavilions at the live sites). The report put the final bill at $554 million. But that was counting in all kinds of things that the city was planning to do anyway, like fix up Granville Street and put in the public stuff in Southeast False Creek (seawall, bridges, manmade islands, district energy utility, etc.)

And the $554 didn’t include, strangely to my eye, the $24 million that Annette Klein in the budget office estimated was the staff time that went into planning the games for the past five years or into “volunteering” during the actual Games experience (a tab that is estimated at $2.5 million, not surprising when you have highly paid engineers and planners doing crowd control of pimply teenagers and crazed pin collectors at the live sites).

So what were the real Olympic costs, money that was spent that didn’t result in a new community centre or upgraded street or ice rink or all the other things that we will get to enjoy for the better part of a century.

I’d say all the operating costs — $30 million — plus the staff time — another $24 million, for sure. That’s $54 million. And then there’s an unquantifiable amount, the money that could have been saved if these new facilities weren’t being built for the Olympics. Vancouver did pay a premium to build at a time when construction costs were at an all-time high. And I’d be willing to bet money that there was a little bit of a premium paid because people wanted to make all the projects the best possible to show off for the Olympics.

On the other hand, the city also got a big chunk of money from the federal and provincial governments for several of the facilities plus $30 million for the social housing at the village. If you calculated the premium that the city paid for building in a frenzied period and deducted the contributions from other partners, would we come out about even? Hard to say.

As for $54 million in operating costs, was that a good expenditure to put on an event that made Vancouver look utterly fabulous to the rest of the world? I don’t have to tell you that opinion is divided out there.

But it seems like not a bad investment in comparison with some I’ve heard of. Did you hear that the B.C. government spent $17 million on an advertising deal with NBC during the Olympics that included getting the writers on the TV series The Office to put in a mention of Vancouver in one of the scripts? (Great find by Bob Mackin at 24 Hours on this.)

Okay, enough from me. Have at ‘er.

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