"Well, the landlord rang my frontdoor bell
I let it ring for a long, long spell
Went to the window, peeped through the blind
Asked him to tell me what was on his mind
He said, money honey, money honey, money honey
If you wanna stay here with me."
Yeah, landlords — and, of course, absentee owners — are like that. Money honey.
It's the rare landlord who pays much more than lip service to the building he/she owns and rents. Just enough capital investment to keep the damn thing from crumbling to the ground and cutting off the flow of money, honey. Roaches, heck, you can live with those. Drippy faucet, no insulation, crappy appliances, stop complaining; there are lots of others who'd like to rent the place... at least for a season, or maybe a few nights a month. Heck, I can make more on Airbnb in two weekends than you pay in a month, you ungrateful whiner.
So you've got to ask yourself how a smart operator — who answers to the all powerful god Shareholder — plans to make an investment, for which it's paid a very airy premium, pay off? Good question.
Perhaps it's a philanthropic motive. Bring the more finely honed management skills of the biggest damn ski company in the universe to the parochial hewers and haulers in, where is it again, oh yeah, Canada. Show the rubes how it's done and make a killing in the process.
Naw. Too far-fetched. After all, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has been doing a fine job of squeezing profits from ever-increasing prices and blood from employees.
Alright then, maybe the biggest damn ski company in the universe will have some development ideas that make Renaissance North look like the Dark Ages. Sky rides, Ferris wheels, magic kingdoms, colourful — oops, make that colorful, Pilgrim, and get used to them 'Merican spellings — animated mascots. Higher prices for everything and everything for a price.
Maybe. Problem is, skiing — remember skiing? — has just about priced itself out of anything resembling a mass market. Epic Pass notwithstanding, a trip to Vail will put a bleeding gash in the credit cards of any but the most scamming dirtbag skier. WB has already priced itself high enough to be a gift to Sun Peaks and Big White.
Oh wait, I know, how about real estate? Yeah, absurd idea. Who ever heard of a ski area operator making money off of real estate? Really.
Yet, in an interesting story in last Friday's Vancouver Sun — and that may be the first time I've ever written that line — there was informed speculation that Vail's move might, just might, increase the value of Whistler real estate. I'll give you a moment to stop retching.
The notion is Vail has a much weightier cachet, marketing-wise, than Whistler, notwithstanding our inflated notion of self-importance. If you've skied at Vail and taken a peek at real estate prices, you'll understand. And that Vail magic goes well beyond the one-percenters in the USA, finding resonance in those with more homes than tax shelters around the world.
But why take my word for it? Someone named Nicholas Soldan Harriss of Sotheby's International Realty, who works in Whistler no less, had this to say: "Vail is a much more world-renowned market where property values are exponentially higher. Sales there in the $15-million to $20-million (range) are more common." And who in the world would doubt what he has to say?
Makes those trifling $7-to-$10-million homes Sotheby's advertises here seem like shacks by comparison.
But, I hear you say, it begs the question of how Vail can recoup some of the nearly 45 per cent premium it's paying for Whistler. Not like WB owns a lot of property it can sell at inflated prices.
Enter Renaissance North: First Derivative. I was curious why the smart cookies that run WB weren't just a little bit sheepish about naming their grand scheme Renaissance. After all, it was the Lionshead project coming out of the ground last time I was in Vail that was branded Renaissance. It seemed like an outfit that always saw itself in heated competition with Vail might be, well, hesitant to borrow the name for their big project. Needless to say, I'm a bit less curious now. Boy, talk about your cosmic coincidences. Makes you wonder about the power of, say, astrology.
Suppose you could amp up the price of those townhomes and 10-star condo hotel suites that form the monetary foundation of Renaissance North. Heck, that'd sure make it a sweeter deal. Suppose you could buy the development rights for a big discount while the Canadian dollar flounders in a sea of oily oversupply. Better still.
Suppose Whistler's council decided not to pony up the bed units needed to build those overpriced 15-star suites. Oops. Shudder. But isn't it in the town's best interest to support Renaissance? Doesn't WB — and the potential new owners — have the future viability of the town as a strategic priority? Remember, it might not snow; skiing's a dying sport; the future lies in diverse, weather-independent distractions.
Oh heck, as long as we're supposing, let's shoot for the moon and suppose the province does something as unlikely as extend its recent foreign-buyer property transfer tax premium beyond the cosy confines of the Lower Mainland to, oh, Whistler. Wow, that might divert some of the foreign money seeking a safe haven, the money some people believe is going to be diverted to Whistler to somewhere else. Sure wouldn't make those 20-star hotel suites nearly as good an investment, would it?
Well, you dream of your future, I'll dream of mine. My future doesn't embrace absentee owners looking for a place to park their U.S. dollars, or wash their foreign currency.
A former mayor of Whistler used to be fond of saying he didn't see anything bad about absentee owners; they paid property taxes and didn't use many services. And while that's true, they also didn't add anything to the fabric of the town; they drove up property values, putting the burden on the town to figure out how to keep employees in town rather than falling into the Vail model of satellite man-camps; they were takers, not givers. Of course, there were exceptions — the American Friends of Whistler come immediately to mind — but I won't be holding my breath that the folks attracted to Renaissance real estate will be so philanthropically minded. This town has thrived on the givers for, well, ever. They are the folks who built this place and made it the success it is, not some carpetbaggers with sacks full of money.
Kill Renaissance. Politely bid adieu to Vail. Live the dream. Nurture the golden goose.
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