After the Olympic boom settled, Function Junction was plastered with real estate boards announcing spaces for sale or for lease — a ghost town outside of working hours with a surplus of space to spare.
Now the signs are coming down as a growing number of businesses and entrepreneurs set up shop at prime locations in the business/industrial park, but it's a slow process — one that commercial landlord Steve Bayly says is complicated by the lure of Squamish's big box stores, the upgraded highway that makes it easier for people to shop at them, and the growing supply of new warehouse space in Function. If a rezoning application goes through for the First Nations-owned lands at the southwest corner of Highway 99 and Alpha Lake Road, the number of spaces will increase even more.
On the fringe of all these new businesses and challenges sits Whistler's cultural tourism plan, based on a report by consultant Steve Thorne titled A Tapestry of Place. Among other things, the report envisioned Function Junction as an alternative arts and culture centre for the community, similar to the Soho districts of London and New York where tourists can watch artists and artisans of all descriptions at work.
In Thorne's own words to Pique, "Function is a mixed-use precinct that feels organic, funky, and unplanned. Its character and sense of place is very different from the village. With its cluster of artist studios, one-of-a-kind eateries, and manufacturers of artisanal products, Function brings an entirely different dimension to the visitor experience. Cultural tourists love places like Function. They're unique, authentic and alive."
A committee called the Alliance for Cultural Tourism (ACT) was created with stakeholders in the resort in 2011 to turn Thorne's vision for the resort into reality.
On July 19 ACT hosted a vision session with Function residents and businesses to find out what the community would like to see happen — if they were interested in becoming Whistler's Soho, and how ACT and its partners could help make that happen.
Participants in the meeting ranged from Function-based artists to the owner of a construction company. While there was some disagreement over the actual tourism potential, the general consensus was that Function Junction has been left out in the cold when it comes to infrastructure like sidewalks and signage.
However, the attendees were also unanimous that the lack of central planning for the business park has actually been a good thing, making the eclectic mix of light and heavy industry, retail, offices, services, recreation, art studios and residential units possible.
Bayly couldn't attend the ACT meeting but echoed that sentiment when reached by Pique. "I think it's going to continue morphing," he said. "One of the things about Function is that it evolved — and evolved completely — from market forces. It hasn't had excessive planning. It hasn't had people trying to figure out what it should be and mandating that it be that, and that only. It's the rascal. It figures itself out."
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