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Another type of legacy sought for Lot 1/9

Task force work continues, community input will be sought

Just because there won’t be a Paralympic ice arena in the village doesn’t mean there won’t ever be ice-skating on Lot 1/9.

What happens on that piece of land is still up for discussion.

And with $4.2 million in funding from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, there will be an Olympic legacy on that site.

"I’m really excited that we’re going to have something on Lot 1/9 that in 20 years from now people are going to come by and plop their kids there and take a picture to remember the 2010 Olympics..." said Councillor Bob Lorriman. "I think we’re going to have a tourist legacy, if you will, on that spot."

Lorriman was the council representative on the 11-member task force charged with looking at the best use of the village site, utilizing the $20 million leveraged from VANOC for the Paralympic arena.

It was a difficult task to be sure.

When asked what they wanted, the community was clear; they wanted an iconic building, a place that maximized the views and sunlight, a place that was "weather-shielded" but at the same time open to the elements and connected to nature.

They wanted a gathering spot for locals and guests. They were looking for space for some non-profit groups and they hoped the arena could be a multi-use facility, a place that could transform from a sledge hockey arena to a conference centre/concert hall/exhibition space.

In the end it was all too much.

The cost: $64.7 million.

Remember, said task force member Greg Newton, the community also asked that the arena not be a financial burden.

"We just didn’t feel we could recommend going to the people of Whistler, the taxpayers, and borrowing that money," he said.

None of the task force members interviewed this week had the cost breakdown itemizing the hard and soft costs for the facility.

The municipality is releasing a report detailing those costs for Tuesday’s council meeting. It is not clear this week why the arena cost so much or what was included in the $60 million-plus price tag.

Mayor Ken Melamed said council didn’t see the cost breakdown in detail and were only presented with the macro costs. But he acknowledged there is a higher cost to doing business in Whistler.

"You’ve got the Whistler factor of higher costs and you’ve got the Whistler engineering snow load requirement which you can imagine on a roof span that size gets exponentially higher," he said.

And there are also the village design guidelines.

"It has to be reflective of Whistler’s commitment to being the premier resort," said the mayor.

Tourism Whistler’s President Barrett Fisher was also a member of the task force. Before their work began this year Tourism Whistler’s board of directors released a statement saying they supported a tourist amenity on Lot 1/9 and a second sheet of ice in the community.

But through the process Fisher learned that building something for the resort guest to enjoy and a Paralympic facility are two vastly different entities. For one, the arena needed to be an enclosed ice facility to ensure the quality of the ice.

"The requirements for the tourist guest compared to the requirements which are far more structured and far more formalized from the Paralympics perspective are quite different," said Fisher.

Lorriman said they examined all options. Every time it went to the quantity surveyor it came back more expensive. Even when they thought they could save money by building a smaller NHL-sized arena, the figures still came back higher.

"We tried cutting everything that we possibly could," he said.

A large part of the cost can also be blamed on the rising construction costs plaguing building in B.C.

The option to twin the Meadow Park facility almost doubled in the last year. At one time slated to cost $13 million, to build at Meadow Park would now cost $23 million.

"The cost of doing things right now is just through the roof," said Lorriman.

Task force chairman Drew Meredith said the arena not only cost too much but it also would have dominated the site.

"The arena just smothered the site," said Meredith last week. "I mean, trees? Forget about the trees. Forget about views. Forget about light and sun and all that.

"This is a big huge enormous concrete structure."

Though the decision to forgo the arena and the $20 million seed money from VANOC was disappointing for many, Lorriman and Meredith both expressed optimism about the future.

The task force members have volunteered to continue their work in the master planning for the site.

And a second sheet of ice is still in the cards, as are arts and culture legacies such as a museum, a park, an amphitheatre.

"To have some sort of an ice facility… in the village proper that would be easily accessible to guests would certainly be an asset," said Fisher.

Lorriman said they looked at temporary ice surfaces such as the one on Grouse Mountain, and while the technology isn’t perfect yet, that could also be a possibility in the future.

"Maybe we do have something that we roll out in the winter time for outdoor skating. We just couldn’t contemplate that for the Olympics. It had to be covered," he said.

The $4.2 million from VANOC is to build a "celebration plaza" on Lot 1/9 which could accommodate the medals ceremonies for events held in Whistler during the 2010 Games.