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If you thought the last five years had been challenging…

Five years ago at this time we were just getting over the fact that the world hadn’t stopped spinning and computers hadn’t melted down when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve and the odometer rolled over to the year 2000.

Five years ago at this time we were just getting over the fact that the world hadn’t stopped spinning and computers hadn’t melted down when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve and the odometer rolled over to the year 2000. Some of us in Whistler were still scratching our heads wondering what went wrong with our plans to make millions renting out accommodation for the Christmas-New Year’s period prior to the new millennium. Things haven’t become any easier to figure out in the five years since.

But from the mid-way point of the first decade of this millennium, and one of the blandest winters on record, we can look ahead to the next five years and be certain of a few things – the known knowns – physical growth being one of them.

Everyone recognizes there will be development for the 2010 Olympics: the Nordic centre in the Callaghan; the bobsleigh track on Blackcomb; the athletes village in the Cheakamus area, where affordable resident housing will also be built after the Games; and another arena. But the list of developments unrelated to 2010 and likely to be finished in the next five years is much longer.

As far as tourist accommodation goes, there is the obvious: the new PanPacific hotel and the second phase of the Four Seasons resort, both of which will open some time this year. At Creekside, work on the Nita Lake Lodge seems to be sputtering into gear again. Still to come are a third lodge at the base of the Whistler Mountain, which Intrawest has said it will begin this spring, and the London Mountain Lodge project on the west side of Nita Lake. At the other end of town the type of development is still to be determined but plans for redevelopment of the Shoestring Lodge and the Whistler Racquet Resort are being proposed. The racquet resort has the zoning and bed units for a major hotel but the owners feel the site would be better suited to townhouses.

Residential development is not likely to take a backseat to hotel construction. There are, of course, plenty of high-end vacant lots at Kadenwood and Stonewood, but there are also whole new housing projects in the works. The largest and perhaps most important is the proposed Rainbow lands development, which includes various types of resident-restricted and market housing, to be built over several years. The Nita Lake Lodge and Shoestring Lodge redevelopment will also include resident-restricted housing. Something may happen with the Cheakamus North site and the Mount Whistler Lodge site in Alta Vista is finally moving forward. And of course, after 2010 resident-restricted housing will be brought on as needed in the Cheakamus area.

There’s also the possibility of some infill housing and expansion of existing village hotels.

It’s a substantial list, but it’s by no means complete. What’s happening around Whistler’s periphery is also critical. Some of this development may be affected if Whistler’s municipal boundaries are expanded, but already approved is a RV park near Brandywine. Development of a community in the Soo Valley and a subdivision near Wedge Mountain are also proposed.

But Whistler is not only going to get bigger in the next five years, it’s going to become easier to get to – regardless of what happens with airports. Improvements to Highway 99 will make it faster and easier to drive to Whistler from the Lower Mainland. Passenger rail service will start next year. Bus service will likely increase and improve as day-trips between Vancouver and Whistler become easier on the upgraded highway and lessons are learned from moving spectators to the Olympic events. Even the proposed ferry to Squamish may have an impact.

From a resident’s point of view, this small valley is going to become more cramped. Green space will likely become more precious. But for many, Whistler should also become more affordable, and there will be opportunities for people to put down permanent roots.

From a business point of view, the question is: Are enough people going to come to fill all these hotel rooms and support this growth that we’re planning? More to the point, who are they, where are they going to come from, when are they going to come here and what are they here to do or see?

Keep in mind this growth in Whistler is happening at the same time tourism and resort development are being encouraged and financed in all corners of the province. A critical mass of resorts may help put British Columbia on the map for destination visitors but it also increases competition among resorts for those same visitors.

Those resorts may also compete for some of Whistler’s residents.

There have been a lot of changes and unexpected challenges over the last five years. We have, belatedly, started to realize that we have to do more to overcome those challenges. Looking ahead to the next five years we will have to redouble those efforts just to stay ahead of the challenges we can anticipate.