Time for a Creekside makeover 

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It's the place where it all started — Ground Zero if you will.

Yet here we are decades after the first visitor took to the Creekside Gondola up Whistler Mountain (renamed from London Mountain in 1965) still trying to find out where this unique area fits into Whistler's great plan.

This week we learned that CNL Lifestyle Properties (a real estate investment trust company), which owns most of the Creekside Village is looking to revitalize the shopping area (CNL purchased an 80 per cent stake in Creekside in 2004 from Intrawest. Today, Whistler Blackcomb leases space from CNL and owns the parkade). And it has engaged British Columbia-based Greenstead Consulting Group to help develop a repositioning and remerchandising plan for the property.

According to Greenstead founder Peter Morris, Creekside Village is ideally suited to provide a different experience to the common brand name retailers found elsewhere in Whistler. He said that Creekside Village will be seeking tenants that are unique and/or offer something quintessentially Canadian, resulting in making Creekside Village a "must-visit" location.

Originally developed to bring skiing to Whistler, and to push for Olympic bids in the '60s and '70s real development took place under Intrawest's watch. It was envisioned as a place where Whistler's heritage would be celebrated.

Intrawest wanted to "preserve and enhance the random charm of Whistler's first neighbourhood."

Planner Eldon Beck and architect Ray Letkeman created the idea of Franz's Trail, which was to include funky eateries and unusual shops with the signage all in the rustic hand carved or painted style of the 1960s. It was to reflect the free and easy nature of Whistler "back in the day." Cars were to be kept out of sight in underground parking.

The overarching idea was to create a place for locals to do business, work and hang out.

Tied in with the development of Creekside was the development of the Spring Creek neighbourhood, and also what is now the Nita Lake Lodge and train station area.

The late `90s saw packed community meetings as the master plan for Whistler South was discussed and debated.

What was always on the table though was the understanding that the village was the focal point of the resort — the place where locals and visitors would mingle. No one wanted a resort village that was just for tourists, as it would lack vibe and businesses would never survive long term.

It's no coincidence that a hardware store, drug store, grocery store and other retailers reflecting the needs of residents is part of the fabric of the Village Stroll.

This goes back to planning done in 1974.

In September of that year a study by James Gilmour of the province's Municipal Affairs' planning services department addressed this exact issue.

"Considerable planning discussion in the recent past has revolved around the question of a 'single-centred' versus a 'multi-centred' community," Gilmour wrote. "This plan strongly recommends the 'single-centred' concept over the 'multi-centred' one for a variety of reasons." The single-centre provided a psychological focal point for the valley; a multiplier effect to support local businesses and it minimized car traffic in the valley.

For the most part this belief has remained intact. And the addition of the Whistler Olympic Plaza gathering area has only added to the success of this model.

The effects are felt throughout the valley. The new Cheakamus neighbourhood has struggled to fill its commercial space — and Creekside has struggled long and hard.

Will we see this challenged with the new shopping area coming online at Rainbow in 2016? It will offer a gas station, Loblaws grocery store, coffee shop and more. One has to wonder if the Rainbow development will suffer from the same malaise as Creekside?

In a way these satellite-shopping sites are a victim of the very success of the Whistler Village model. Creekside has seen multiple shops and eateries try to make a go of it only to fail. The success stories, like the Creekside Market, are far and few between.

One of the first sights to catch the eye of those on Highway 99 as they enter and leave the resort is the big, empty, iconic lodge-style building, which has housed several restaurants all of which have failed to find success. It has been empty for years. Not a good way to welcome visitors.

A 2012 report by G.P. Rollo & Associates into Whistler's projected commercial space requirements until 2020 for the Resort Municipality of Whistler suggested bolstering Creekside by giving it a "cultural precinct role."

In that study empty restaurants were highlighted as a key challenge.

"...Creekside continues to struggle from a leasing perspective and its built form — particularly along Franz's Trail — will continue to act as an impediment to tenant attraction and retention," the report said, adding that, "New visions for the Creekside area, specifically Franz's Trail, are recommended."

Let's hope that the future vision from Greenstead manages to find a way to celebrate this historic location, and offer a place visitors and residents alike want to enjoy.

Finding Creekside's place in the Whistler equation is long overdue.



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