Nita Lake Lodge proposal would transform Creekside 

A new train station in Whistler at a time when B.C. Rail is pulling out of the passenger rail business?

A proposed private surgical centre in town when hospitals are shutting down throughout the province?

Some would question the viability of these projects.

Yet developer John Haibeck, president of the Nita Lake Lodge Corporation, can see the merit of both facilities here.

About a year and a half ago when Haibeck was studying Whistler's infrastructure, he came up with a specific vision for a parcel of land in Creekside that included just those things.

"The location of the property lends itself to a certain type of development," said Haibeck, who was speaking at the first Business after Business gathering hosted by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce last week.

The vision included a new train station which would revitalize rail travel to Whistler, and a surgical facility the likes of which Whistler and Canada has never seen, said the developers. The development proposal is on land formerly owned by the late John Taylor.

Over the course of the past year, the vision has given way to extensive research, schematic models and discussions with interested parties.

The idea is to turn the end of Lake Placid Road, at the edge of Nita Lake, into a commercial anchor in south Whistler, in keeping with the municipality's goal from the 1991 Whistler Creek Study which recommended commercial development of that site.

At present, the train coming into Whistler chugs into a desolate platform, barely marking a visitor's arrival at one of the top ski resorts in North America.

In Haibeck's vision passengers would be welcomed into a new two-storey train station, complete with a waiting lounge, restaurant and check-in area.

Earl Simons, the corporation's rail consultant, admits that commuter passenger train travel isn't going to work. But what he believes will succeed is train travel for the tourist.

"I agree that passenger commuter service is not viable," he said.

"It's always going to be subsidized."

A recent provincial transportation study supports Simons’ ideas. It concluded that there isn’t sufficient demand for a commuter train between Vancouver and Whistler – even with certain improvements – to pay for the service.

But the new train station isn't geared to the dwindling commuter passenger market. Rather it is targeting a specific niche market, one that has remained relatively untapped on the Vancouver-Whistler route: the cruise ship tourist.

Of the 1.2 million visitors who come through Vancouver for a cruise, only two per cent make the trip to Whistler before or after their cruise.

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