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Dissent voiced over Games bid
'Vast majority' at business chamber meeting say increased taxes, limited hotel and restaurant capacity make event a non-starter

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The "vast majority" of business representatives who attended a small meeting of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce last month opposed a 2023 Canada Winter Games bid by the city, according to a summary of the views expressed.

NNSL photo/graphic

The "vast majority" of businesses belonging to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce at a July 6 meeting were opposed to the city bidding on the 2023 Canada Winter Games because of concerns about potential increased property taxes, the inability to attract enough volunteers, hotel and restaurant capacities, infrastructure deficits and the costs associated with new projects and upgrades. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

The chamber held the meeting July 6 with at least 14 business representatives from sectors that included non-profits, tourism, retail, and marketing and communications to gather input about whether the city should bid and what position the chamber should take on the issue. There was no one present from the construction sector.

The chamber provided Yellowknifer with comments from several participants at the meeting. However, their names and the businesses they were representing were not included.

"We heard concerns about potential increased property taxes, the inability to attract enough volunteers, hotel and restaurant capacities, infrastructure deficits and the costs associated with new projects and upgrades," a summary of the comments given at the meeting states.

"We've also heard concerns about how the Canada Winter Games could impact non-profit organizations who rely on sponsorship dollars and how hosting the games during prime aurora viewing season will impact our tourism operators."

Deneen Everett, the chamber's executive director, told Yellowknifer on Monday the group representing 280 businesses has yet to take a formal position. The July meeting was one of several steps to gather input from chamber members before the board votes Sept. 8 on whether or not to support a bid.

One of the first steps was a survey of members in January. Of the 72 people who voted, 43 per cent were in support of a bid, 40 per cent were opposed and 17 per cent were unsure. Most written comments on that survey, according to those provided to Yellowknifer, were negative.

"The city is struggling to provide the basic requirements of a town never mind a capital city," one anonymous comment states. "We have to live within our means and not keep tapping into the taxpayer. Diamond mines will be on the downturn following 2020 and there is no realistic probability of replacing their contribution to the city's economy. For two week of glory and ego stroking it is hardly worth the cost."

"Well, I don't see any benefit to tourism from this at all," one person said. "I just can't see any spinoff. Hosting the Canada Winter Games will add more stress to the tourism community."

Several worried about the ability to recruit enough volunteers. It's expected about 4,000 volunteers will be needed for the event.

Positives include potentially creating employment in the services sector and opportunities to market the city for tourists.

Mayor Mark Heyck told Yellowknifer he's heard from "many business representatives that have been highly supportive" of a bid. He said any responses will depend on the audience and the business sectors represented.

"We'd take into consideration a range of public opinion, whether it's everyday members of the community, the business community or whether its members or volunteers from sporting organizations," he said when asked about how the view of businesses would affect council's decision on a bid.

He said the city is still in the information gathering stage.

There is a chamber representative on the city's committee tasked with assessing the viability of a games bid.

The committee also includes six business representatives. It's next meeting is Sept. 10.

That committee is expected to produce a recommendation for council this fall.

Last week, the business chamber issued another online survey seeking input from at least 200 respondents. As of Monday afternoon, 147 had taken the survey, Everett said.

It asks people to give their views of the pros and cons of a games bid and asks what position the chamber should take.

"This survey will be what forms our opinion. The comments are very important to us. We want to hear both sides," she said.

While the January survey resulted in a nearly even split, she said this time the results are fairly one-sided. She declined to talk about the results until the survey is complete. It will be open until the morning of Sept. 1.

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