Financial concerns make city council hesitant to host 2026 AWG

Financial concerns make city council hesitant to host 2026 AWG

GNWT wants Yellowknife to host the 2026 Arctic Winter Games.

Whether that happens is yet to be seen, but judging by some of the responses given to the idea on Monday, it’s going to be a tough sell.

The city’s Governance and Priorities Committee met at City Hall on Monday and heard a presentation from Gary Schauerte, director of sport, recreation and youth at the Department for Local and Community Affairs (MACA), on why it would be beneficial for the city Host. With the current hosting rotation, NWT would take the reins in 2028; Yamal in Russia was supposed to host the games in 2026, but with Yamal on an indefinite ban due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, that won’t happen.

Schauerte informed committee members that the International AWG Committee had written to MACA Secretary Shane Thompson to see if the NWT was considering moving up the rotation.

He also said that Yellowknife is the only community being considered for hosting due solely to the fact that essentially everything needed to host the games already exists locally.

“While the GNWT has an interest in regional economic development, hosting the Arctic Winter Games in any region other than Yellowknife in 2026 would not be practical,” he said.

Schauerte cited tight deadlines, costs, lack of experience and inadequate facilities as reasons why the event could not take place outside of Yellowknife.

GNWT would only consider moving up the rotation if Yellowknife agreed to host, he added.

Yellowknife last hosted the AWG in 2008, and Schauerte pointed out new or improved infrastructure that didn’t exist then. He cited the Fieldhouse, the new Ecole Itlo – replacing the former JH Sissons School – and the new water center as draws for potential tourists. There are also several arenas, gymnasiums and other buildings that could help support athletic competitions, he added.

According to GNWT figures from the 2008 AWG in Yellowknife, the net economic benefit for the entire area was US$4.9 million, while Yellowknife received US$3.5 million in direct benefits. The average person spent $950 during AWG week.

This work would cost money to carry out and Schauerte said the GNWT stands ready to help ensure no cost overruns occur. He also said federal funding of between $1.5 million and $2 million would likely be available, but some kind of municipal contribution would be required.

The 2018 AWG, co-hosted by Hay River and Fort Smith, received $3.5 million in direct funding from GNWT, along with $1 million in in-kind support. Schauerte pointed out that this amount is the starting point for any negotiations between the city and GNWT.

In comparison, the local community provided $5.4 million in funding for this year’s AWG in Wood Buffalo, Alta, and the budget is expected to be over $13 million. The AWG 2024 in Mat-Su, Alaska has a current price of just under 10 million CAD.

If Yellowknife is to host, Schauerte said a decision that would allow the international committee to visit the site would be needed by this spring. MACA would then seek a formal statement of support from the GNWT.

How did the councilors react after the presentation was finished? The best description would be lukewarm.

‘eyes wide open’

count. Tom McLennan said that given that we live in a capitalist society and the financial impact is a reality, he asked what a minimum cash contribution from the city would be.

Schauerte said each host company is different, but a typical amount would be around $500,000, with in-kind contributions related to facilities and staff.

City Manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said it’s a wonderful opportunity for Yellowknife, but it would be one that the city needs to “open-eyed” about.

“We’re busy building our new aquatic center (and) that’s consuming every bit of oxygen in the room,” she said. “This is a major undertaking for the city, the largest facility we have ever built. We are in the middle of this construction project. Given the size, scope and complexity of this project, it takes a lot of time and energy.”

She also said there was a review of hosting in 2008 – a great event, as she called it – but unforeseen issues arose that drained the city’s resources.

count. Stacie Arden-Smith highlighted the issues surrounding housing during territorial trials for the 2023 Games last month, particularly the displeasure expressed by parents and athletes at the perceived poor accommodations.

During AWG 2008 in Yellowknife, teams stayed in school classes across town, but Arden-Smith said she didn’t think that would work this time.

“I’m not entirely sure that letting athletes sleep on the floor in schools will be enough this time,” she said. “It would be very difficult because we have a lot of workers, we have tourism that is increasing now, so I’m worried about our ability to host an event like this.”

Noting what the host communities have pledged financially for the 2023 and 2024 AWG, Mayor Rebecca Alty said it’s a challenge for the city to raise that kind of money.

She noted that if the city had to come up with the funds, it would mean a tax increase close to 14.5 percent. Spread that out over three years, she added, and it would be $1.7 million a year in 2024, 2025, and 2026, a non-starter in her opinion.

“Our next three years are full of regulatory projects … we have almost $40 million in investment projects (water center and new submarine water line) over the next two years,” she said. “I can’t see this being a priority higher than anything we currently have in our work plan.”

However, Alty said the city would like to sit down and see what could be done if the GNWT were to come up with a permit to make a bid.

A decision on the next steps is expected in spring.

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