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Prices slashed up to 50% for Olympic village condos

A year ago, the swanky Olympic athletes village built on Vancouver's spectacular waterfront was arguably one of the busiest and most popular places in town.

Since then, however, the 2010 Olympic village has been a virtual ghost town, on which the city stands to lose millions after being forced to step in and secure finances.

While the province celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Games, efforts have been renewed to unload hundreds of condominiums that now sit empty.

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Rennie Marketing Systems relaunched a sales campaign Thursday by slashing prices an average of 30 per cent, saying the reductions will stabilize the development and ultimately deliver millions in loans back to city taxpayers now on the hook for the development.

"We have a ghost-town cloud over the village," director Bob Rennie told reporters as he unveiled his strategy in a sparkling show unit with panoramic views.

"We feel we've removed the financing cloud - that the consumer knows that there's certainty."

Only 265 units of more than 1,100 have been sold in the eight-block, 25-building development since 2007, as first the market dried up and then Olympic organizers took it over for the Games. Ongoing financing troubles saw the $1-billion project labelled a white elephant by critics.

While Mr. Rennie expressed confidence his plan will create enough urgency to entice buyers to snap up units, he repeatedly shied from saying how much the sales at lower rates would return to the taxpayer.

"Whether the city makes or loses money has no bearing; we just have to pay attention to stabilizing the asset for the taxpayer and maximizing revenue," he said.

Along with trimming unit price tags from 5 to 50 per cent, Mr. Rennie said his team changed the development name from the Olympic Village to the Village on False Creek. In the past 10 days he's already received 31 offers on 230 units up for sale.

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He said 59 units now cost less than $500,000, and 61 units are between $500,000 and $750,000. Another 51 units cost $750,000 to $1-million, and a final 59 units are set at more than $-million. The remaining 114 units will be rented out to help populate the village, and later the company will put several dozen pricier condos on the market.

Struggles for the village began even before it was constructed, when the developer's original lender stopped paying its loan and the city of Vancouver was forced to step in and secure hundreds of millions of dollars to finish the project in time for the February of 2010 start of the Games.

When it came time to flip the quarters into a mix of high-end, free-market condos and social housing, consumers wouldn't bite. With sales failing to meet expectations, Millennium Development Corp. came up short on a $200-million loan payment last fall and in November, the village was put into receivership.

The move paved the way for the marketers to refresh their sales strategy.

"We took the HST into account, we took market conditions, we took competitive product and we tucked ourselves just below the market ," Rennie said, adding he expects to fulfil a promise to receiver Ernst & Young to sell 60 condos in 60 days.

City Councillor Geoff Meggs said that after handing the reigns to the receiver, the city was advised of the price drops but hasn't been involved in the day-to-day decision making around the project.

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"These decisions are now done by the receiver with expert advice and the maximum value that those experts feel they can generate will flow back to taxpayers," he said.

Questions to Ernst & Young were all referred back to Mr. Rennie.

Mr. Meggs said the focus and ability to lower prices was different last year, when the developer was still trying to pay back the loan. The new campaign is "initially encouraging," he said.

"I think that it's a sophisticated approach and we'll see how the market responds."

Of the 1,108 total condos, 252 are owned by the city in a 50-50 split of social housing and market rentals, while the receiver owns 119 more rental units.

Mr. Rennie said he believes he can sell all of the units in two years.

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