VANCOUVER - The race to pay down the $630-million debt on Vancouver's Olympic Village has earned the city a gold medal, boasts Mayor Gregor Robertson, but critics aren't applauding.
Officials announced Monday that the city has sold its remaining interests in 67 condominium units in the troubled False Creek development for $91 million to the Aquilini Group, the owner of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.
Robertson said the sale means the city will be able to contribute an additional $70 million towards amenities such as a community centre, parks, roads and utilities.
"I am thrilled to announce that we at city hall here have delivered gold for taxpayers on our Olympic Village, and we have announced today that the entire $630 million debt for the Olympic Village construction project has been paid off," Robertson told reporters.
But critics on council and in the community, like Coun. George Affleck and real-estate consultant Michael Geller, said the city shouldn't take credit for the sale or claim it didn't lose money in the process.
Affleck said the work was really done by a receiver and a real estate company.
"The mayor should be careful in taking credit for selling condos in Olympic Village," he said. "He didn't do that. (Council) merely oversaw the process."
Geller said the city has spent a lot of other money on infrastructure surrounding the village, apart from the loan it took out, and he said that means the taxpayers have lost money.
"The fact is it's not correct to say we haven't lost any money," he said. "We have."
Located on southeast False Creek, the village of about 1,100 condominium units housed almost 3,000 athletes and officials during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Leading up to the Games, the city chose Millennium Properties Ltd. in April 2006 to build the first phase of the project, and the company agreed to pay $200 million for the land.
But Millennium's lender stopped advancing money to the developer in September 2008, and in October 2008, the city stepped in as guarantor to keep the project going.
In January 2009, the city made public a financing agreement between it, Millennium, and the lender, and in February it purchased the loan from the lender.
Millennium defaulted on its loan in August 2010, and the city announced the project was in receivership.
Penny Ballem, the city manager, said Monday the entire project was estimated to cost about $1.1 billion, and the city took on about $690 million in debt.
She said $630 million was external debt and $60 million came from the city's own working capital, funds that the city announced it has now repaid.
Francesco Aquilini, the managing director of Aquilini Group, said that the city has shown sound business leadership that has made the Olympic Village project an attractive investment and his company is happy to be part of the neighbourhood.
"Mayor Robertson and Vancouver city council have helped finance a vibrant community that is now one of the most popular places to live in Vancouver," he said in a statement.
Robertson said officials at City Hall are relived because critics said this day would never come.
"This is an extraordinary accomplishment on a project that many said would never make it into the black," he said.
"So it's been a long road, it's been a patient and methodical approach by the city to ensure that we maximized the opportunity for taxpayers to be whole on this deal. It has been years in the making."
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