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Tiffany Markwart works on 'The World Needs Canada' campaign Sunday at the Chapters bookstore in Vancouver.
 

Tiffany Markwart works on 'The World Needs Canada' campaign Sunday at the Chapters bookstore in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG, The Province

Call it the parallel Olympics, or perhaps the winter gains.

While 2010 Games athletes strive for gold in February, local businesses will be competing every bit as hard in a battle of brands and clash for customers.

Businesses have been planning for years and spending untold millions to position themselves in this high-stakes dash-for-cash.

The Province surveyed the players and interviewed the experts to see who stands to add gold to their coffers, and who could get wiped out.

For real-estate professionals, and anyone interested in buying or selling property in Vancouver, the billion-dollar question is what effect the Games will have on the local market.

Peter Simpson, CEO of Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, hopes the Games will boost fortunes at a crucial time.

The year 2009 would have been the worst for housing starts since 1962, except for a surge in December, Simpson says.

"[The Games] will focus a lot of people's attention on the region," Simpson says. "With three billion eyes on Greater Vancouver, hopefully people will want to come and visit, and then they'll want to move here and buy homes and open businesses."

No one has more on the line than the City of Vancouver and its taxpayers, who could be on the hook for the $1.2-billion athletes village on southeast False Creek.

The city was forced to take over the project when its developer stumbled during the world credit crisis in 2008.

Condo marketing mogul Bob Rennie said there were no buyers for about 700 athletes village market condos as the credit crisis continued in 2009, so he advised bringing the units back to market following the Games.

On May 15, his team will "invite the city and the world," to the relaunch, and he's confident the strategy is golden.

"There are not many world addresses in our city, but the Olympic Village is an address to be reckoned with," Rennie says.

But Tsur Somerville, a University of B.C. economist, doubts real estate will get an Olympic boost.

In fact, he's studied six Olympic markets -- including Salt Lake City, Calgary, Sydney and Vancouver to date -- and has come to a surprising conclusion.

"We are not seeing any evidence whatsoever of any consistent Olympic effect in house prices in the aggregate," he says.

Somerville says only hotels and tourism will rake in huge Olympic dividends.

Industry experts agree the 2010 Olympics buzz saved tourism in B.C. from dropping into a deep slump in 2009.

Since 2004, when Tourism Vancouver began tracking Olympic tourism-related data, more than 2,000 media members have asked the group for help with coverage.

In all, Games organizers have booked about 15,000 rooms in Vancouver and Whistler for Olympic family.

Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association said all hotels "are reporting near total occupancy for the period of [the Games.]"

Likely business winners such as HBC, Chapters/ Indigo, the Pacific Centre and Granville Entertainment have "centre ice" Olympic zone locations and have extended their hours and mounted flexible operational plans, Gauthier said, adding that official Canadian 2010 team sponsor HBC's flagship store has seen store visits quadruple in the run-up to the Games.

Sandi Green, senior marketing director for Cadillac Fairview, operator of the Pacific Centre, said the shopping centre's hours will be extended to 11 p.m., and the centre has ramped up hiring for operations and security, to handle added Games traffic.

Granville Entertainment Group chief financial officer Ron Orr said properties such as Doolin's Irish Pub and The Roxy are expecting to host St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve-like crowds for 18 straight days during the Games.

But, as Somerville notes, for retailers outside pedestrian zones and saddled with strict road closures and parking restrictions, the Games could be less fun.

"For local businesses that won't see any tourist foot traffic -- I think there are a lot of potential losers that will get really hurt by the Olympics," he says. "Maybe they should look at taking that early vacation."

South Granville BIA executive director Sharon Townsend said merchants are hoping to entice adventurous Olympic tourists outside downtown pedestrian zones to shop and dine in "the real Vancouver."

To that end, South Granville and Yaletown merchants have combined on a $250,000 investment to lay about 500 decals of 80 flags from participating Olympic countries along the 35-minute walk between the areas, over Granville Bridge.

Townsend said merchants along Broadway can't afford to shut down, even with parking and traffic restrictions.

A few businesses are trying to reap Olympic profits while not contributing to VANOC.

Lululemon Athletica launched its Cheer Gear clothing line with the cheeky branding of a "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition."

VANOC was not amused.

scooper@theprovince.com

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Cory Raven
Telephone:604-220-9399
Cory Raven - Managing Broker
RE/MAX Select Realty
4806 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
V5V 3R8