MDA gives certainty, but lots of work ahead for WB, Vail Resorts 

Revenue sharing deals with First Nations to remain private

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The 60-year Master Development Agreements (MDA) signed between Whistler Blackcomb (WB) and the Province of British Columbia, with the support of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, provides certainty not only for the mountain operator, but for the community as a whole, according to WB's VP of government relations and special projects Doug Forseth.

"Obviously for WB and now Vail Resorts, it's knowing that you've got the ability to invest here and have the chance to get return on your investment going forward," Forseth said this week.

"Without the certainty of having them in place, investment doesn't get done, so that's the big issue, and I do include not just WB and Vail in this, but the community and the region... we have a huge impact on what goes on in this community generally, and certainly from an economic standpoint it's a major driver, but it impacts lots of other businesses and lots of people here."

The new MDAs — signed on February 24 — give WB the authority to pursue projects outlined in its approved 2013 Master Plans.

"The work that's outlined in the 2013 plans is still largely undone, and is in front of us to continue to work on," Forseth said.

"So there is no plan to update the master plan and give it a 2017 and 2018 update, because it would virtually be the same thing as the 2013 plan."

One big difference in newer MDAs in the province from those they're replacing is an added focus on four-season mountain activities, Forseth said, and much of the wording is addressing new summer business that didn't previously exist in mountain resorts.

But that doesn't mean everything in the agreement will necessarily come to fruition — the new WB MDAs give the operator the right to construct a golf course, but Forseth said there are no plans for a course at this time and may never be in the future.

"The reason that's in there is it's part of the new four-season MDA format that the province has," he said.

WB Renaissance — the $345-million investment unveiled in March 2016 that envisions a waterpark, two high-end real estate developments, a doubling in size of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and more — has met with some delays since Vail Resorts acquired WB.

"That process took our eye off of the ball, because you're not going to move forward on a major deal like the Renaissance project when you're in a process of being taken over by another company, so you kind of put things on hold," Forseth said.

There is still work being done behind the scenes to integrate the two companies, which are currently operating on different fiscal calendars, but once the planning and approval processes are in sync Renaissance can be revisited.

"There's no question that we have interest in moving things forward, but until Vail gives us the green light, you know, we're not going very far," Forseth said.

Some aspects of the project are already underway, like a suspension bridge on Whistler Mountain and new trails for the bike park.

Generally, the improvements planned with Renaissance already have approval through the 2013 Master Plan, Forseth said, but further assent will be required from both the province and the Resort Municipality of Whistler to move ahead with construction of the planned waterpark.

Factor in the design and engineering work and the project is still years away from being fully realized.

"It's not a simple process. There is a lot of work," Forseth said.

Like it has done for big projects in the past, WB will hold a community open house to allow locals to provide input on Renaissance, he added.

"We have always historically done community open houses on anything that is substantial or potentially has some controversy to it, for example, when we put the Symphony Chair in, there was some people that thought we were getting too close to the park, so we definitely went public on that," Forseth said. "We would rather engage and see what we can learn and see if there's a way to do it better than what we had envisioned internally. We will continue to do that. We always learn something whenever we have a community dialogue."

Though the agreement includes some form of revenue sharing between WB and the local first nations, on whose traditional territories the company operates, the details of the agreement won't be made public unless all three parties agree to disclose.

WB has said it has no plans to release the private documents.

In an email, Lil'wat Nation Chief Administrative Officer Ernest Armann said the nation will be forming an implementation committee for the MDA, which will then decide what information will be shared.

A request for comment from the Squamish Nation was not returned before Pique's deadline.

Further reading: Whistler Blackcomb's 60-year Master Development Agreements: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/812011/000081201117000006/0000812011-17-000006-index.htm

Whistler Blackcomb's 2013 Master Plans: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/resort-development/proposed-approved-resort-master-plans/list-of-approved-plans

Whistler Blackcomb Renaissance: http://renaissance.whistlerblackcomb.com

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