Vancouver is Bustling

Greetings from Vancouver, Eh?

This place is buzzing with Olympic activity. It’s easy to get caught up in it. So many changes since we were last here in July for the Symposium, it’s hard even know where to begin. There seems to be little evidence of an economic slowdown around here, at least until the post-Olympic hangover begins next month. Let the party begin.

As I boarded the plane in Denver, There were several athletes in team clothing, traveling with their families… Two US speed skaters, some support staff, a female Swedish alpine skier, and a huge Russian guy. Upon arrival in Vancouver, the airport was fully decorated with huge blue and green Olympic-Samsung banners depicting various Olympic sports. Some were three stories tall. There are smiling volunteers everywhere, decked out in matching outfits directing traffic, asking to help, and generally being “Vancouver-nice.” Once the athletes claimed their gear, they get whisked away to the Olympic Village – a huge waterfront development housing 3,000 athletes, that will be converted and sold as high-end condominiums after the games. That should flood the downtown condo market nicely.

There are a ton of projects that had been under construction during our past few visits to town, and to see them completed is impressive. As with most past Olympics, the government (at all levels) has spent billions of dollars in a (recently) tough economy, and many locals are bitterly critical of this. But having seen the largely positive long-term impact that the Olympics have had on the cities of Montreal, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City, many of these investments will enhance our favorite city even further for decades. Its only borrowed money, right?

There is new train line, called the Canada Line, which was built for the games and takes you directly from the airport into downtown (two blocks from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver) and to the event venues. It cost $2 billion to complete, was apparently built on-budget, and opened 12 weeks ahead of schedule. A much better alternative than sitting on traffic-choked Granville Street in a taxi…and badly needed.

I met with a woman from the Vancouver Art Gallery last night to discuss a special evening event we are planning. The building is beautiful, and will be great venue for us. Behind the gallery, and underneath Robson Street is an area called Robson Square, now home to a $41 million, glass turtleback-shaped ice rink, called the GE Ice Plaza. Stages for concert events, medal ceremonies, and parties are scattered all over downtown. Blue lights pointing skyward lit up the night sky like laser beams on the low clouds.

Across Georgia Street from the Fairmont is a condo development called Residences on Georgia that was a hole in the ground last year. It’s become a 10-story tall Canadian flag extending half a block in each direction. My Canadian mother would be proud. Diagonal from that is a building housing Canada Trust. It’s gift-wrapped in a 15-story Olympic/Samsung banner on all four sides. These kinds of things are all over the place… Maybe hundreds of them.

Later today, I’m looking at the new convention center, which is attached to the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel (opening Friday), now the Media Center during the Olympics. All the television sets that you’ll see on the coverage of the games are housed here. Almost $1 billion was spent on this center, but the city claims that they have already booked 200 convention type events representing $2 billion in economic activity…and they aren’t even counting us.

Lots of things to do today, including meeting with the event planner at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to address a few changes. Last night, as I ate Mini-Burgers in the lobby bar, I was recognized by one of our favorite cocktail waitresses, and two bartenders…by name. Our reputation precedes us, but this hotel is a great venue for the Symposium. I have to run to a meeting. Much more to come, so stay tuned…