New signs of life for Whistler Creek after devastating winter
It was 30 years ago this winter that Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began operations on Whistler Mountain, and a very modest little commercial development began in what is now called the Whistler Creek area.
This winter, with Whistler’s increasing international stature and some new ski runs to the original base area, Whistler Creek merchants were looking forward to a big year.
All that changed on Dec. 23 when the Quicksilver accident occurred. The lift has been shut down since, diverting ski traffic from the Creek area to the village. Business is down 10-25 per cent from what many owners expected to do, according to some estimates.
But there are some encouraging signs for the Creekside area. The municipality is going to do some work upgrading Lake Placid Road this spring, several businesses have plans for renovations or upgrades, and the Whistler Creek Merchants Association is planning a block party around the middle of July to celebrate the changes and show people Whistler Creek is alive and well.
"The Creekside businesses are largely made up of owner/operators, small businessmen with a ‘get it done’ attitude," says Gord McKeever of the Whistler Resort and Club.
"It’s a funky area. We’re going to fix it up but maintain the ambiance of Creekside. There’s room for an alternative to the village."
Among the businesses planning improvements are Hoz’s Cafe and Pub, which will add a beer and wine store, and do a complete facelift on the building, giving it "a newer, ’90s feel to it," according to owner Ron Hosner.
Across the street, the Whistler Backpackers Hostel is also planning renovations, although their plans have yet to go to the municipality.
A new pension was approved at Kathleen Place this week and other applications for pensions or bed and breakfasts on Lake Placid Drive are being encouraged, although the Lake Placid Road upgrade will likely have to be completed before it becomes cost effective to renovate houses.
McKeever says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Whistler Resort and Club undergoes some renovations in the next couple of years.
On the east side of the highway sits Whistler Mountain Ski Corp. and its parking lot. Whistler Mountain’s plans have long been considered the lynch pin to the whole Whistler Creek redevelopment. A permanent base facility — including restaurants, ticket offices, ski shops and administration offices — and a hotel have been part of various plans Whistler Mountain has put forward, but before anything is approved the matter of flood proofing the creek itself has to be addressed. With the cost of flood proofing estimated at $4 million it hasn’t made financial sense for Whistler Mountain to begin redevelopment.
Whistler Mountain says it remains committed to the Whistler Creek area and is actively working on a redevelopment plan. However, given the time required to get plans approved and with the future of the Quicksilver chair still uncertain, there won’t be any redevelopment this summer.
But McKeever says businesses in the area understand that and are happy with Whistler Mountain.
"The Creekside merchants all really applaud Whistler Mountain," he says. "Their intentions have been totally honourable. It’s been really good working with them."
He also notes that Whistler Mountain holds a large quantity of bed units, which will only increase in value as the cap on development gets nearer. Already Whistler Mountain and is working on a swap of bed units for land to build employee housing in the Twin Lakes area.
But what McKeever and others are really looking forward to is the municipality’s upgrading of Lake Placid Road.
"The municipal rehabilitation of the street is the key log in the jam," he says. "Once that’s pulled it will start to flow."
However, he is quick to note the upgrade is necessary.
"This is not a special thing for Creekside; it’s past-due maintenance.
"Lots of places have been ignored while the village was being built — and we don’t begrudge that, we’ve hatched a beautiful village. But all they’re doing is long overdue maintenance."
There will be a few months of dust and noise while the road work is done this spring and some of the building renovations are completed, but Whistler Creek merchants are looking forward to mid-July’s block party when they can welcome people back to the valley’s first real commercial centre, 30 years after it first began.