The Vernal Equinox next week signals a change of season. For the first time in six months day and night are (briefly) in balance. Around Whistler the trees show signs of returning to life, the stomachs of hibernating bears begin to growl and contractors prepare for the biggest construction season ever.
After a couple of years in which construction has exceeded expectations this summer is expected to eclipse all previous records. That holds several consequences for Whistler.
If all the construction expected in Village North comes to fruition, by this time next year the activity and traffic patterns in the village and Village North areas will be significantly different. Retail space will increase but there should also be a significant increase in public bed units in Village North. Combined with the opening of the Holiday Inn in Whistler Village Centre, that should mean there are more visitors in the village area to support those retail outlets.
All this construction will also mean an increase in the works and services charges the municipality collects, in the short term, and a larger tax base, in the long term. Those increases are accounted for in next week’s municipal budget and in the 20-year capital plan.
One benefit of the pace of construction the last two years is that municipal taxes will not increase at all this year — even the customary increase to keep pace with inflation will be eliminated.
This summer’s construction will also bring the municipality a significant step closer to build-out. The consequences of that are hard to predict. However, the municipality’s improved monitoring system should shed some light on the state of Whistler. The results of this year’s monitoring efforts will be presented at the second annual town hall meeting, around the time of the Autumnal Equinox.
While tourist visits are largely dependent on the weather, indications are this will also be a record season for summer visitors. With a little luck and some planning the construction in Village North should be less disruptive than was construction of Whistler Village Centre. There will still be dump trucks on Village Gate Boulevard and the sound of jack hammers in the air, but visitors should at least be able to sit out on a village patio and have a conversation.
But not all the changes are taking place in the village area. In Function Junction more office and retail space is being built as more businesses that are not directly reliant on tourist trade come to town. This diversification of the economy signals a change of season — perhaps a blossoming? — for Whistler, too.
– Bob Barnett