Whistler Workforce buildings to arrive this week 

Ponce de Leon still hopes to break even financially with temporary housing project

If you build it, will they come?

That is the question that developer Alvaro Ponce de Leon will answer for himself in the next few weeks - with the first trailers of his Whistler Workforce temporary housing complex set to arrive in Whistler this week.

For a year and a half, Ponce de Leon has been trying to build a 420-person complex on a plot of land near Wildwood Bistro & Bar and the Whistler Racquet Club.

He first announced his plans right after another proposed temporary housing project, Phoenix, fell through. He was hoping to get the same interest from the community that called for more than 500 beds.

Unfortunately Ponce de Leon's wishes have not yet materialized. At one point the North Vancouver-based developer had 30 people signed up for his Whistler Workforce housing project, but those prospective tenants have since found other accommodation.

On Tuesday afternoon, as his first units made their way down from Fort McMurray, Alberta by truck, Ponce de Leon confided he currently has no one signed up.

But he added he is working on a large deal with an undisclosed party and the promise of the contract is spurring him to install the trailers as soon as possible.

"I hope we can get this contract," said Ponce de Leon. "We are hoping for the best. We have been rather optimistic for a year and a half, and we are not going to bail out at the last minute."

If Ponce de Leon's big contract comes through, 10 people could move into the Whistler Workforce complex by Tuesday, Jan. 19. And up to 170 people will be living in his complex during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I can't do anything more," said Ponce de Leon.

"I am committed to be there. I am doing everything I can, and we are investing even more money to have those units there. If people can't come - Jesus."

The six trailers coming up will form one building with five sleepers and one wash unit. Each sleeper can hold 14 people on bunk beds, with one bunk bed per room. The trailers aren't new, but they are in good condition, said Ponce de Leon, and pictures of the units are posted on his website, alpenwhistler.com.

For Ponce de Leon, at this point bringing the trailers up and installing them is largely just about breaking even financially.

With only five weeks to go until the Games, Ponce de Leon said he has invested a significant amount of money in this project. He said he hopes he can pay everyone who has been involved in his project, including the investors and 12 consultants. To help cover costs, he has decided to increase his rate from the original price of $850 a month per bed to a new price of $230 a night per bed.

"If we make it by the end of the day, I will be a happy camper," said Ponce de Leon. "I want to pay everyone and hopefully make a decent profit, but if not, I don't care."

Over the past year and the half, Ponce de Leon has tried to get employees at Whistler businesses, unaccredited media, security personnel, Olympic team officials and workers with the Vancouver Organizing Committee to sign up for his project.

He also met several times with Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed and senior officials with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and he received two separate zoning approvals - with both allowing him to use the space owned by Holborn Holdings Ltd. only until the spring of 2010.

And despite the response to date, Ponce de Leon remains hopeful. He said he is prepared to bring two more buildings into Whistler if needed.

"It has been a long road, but the only thing that matters is the results," he said.




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