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Holborn tennis facility and senior housing will not be done until 2014

Once complete, the municipality could shoulder operation costs

While plans are in place for the municipality to take over 12 new tennis courts and a fitness facility by 2014, the question of who will run the future athletic centre is still up in the air.

Mayor Ken Melamed said the possibility of contracting the centre out to a private operator is being considered. However a business plan for the development by Holborn has not been finalized and the predicted operating costs have not been calculated.

“Generally, facilities like this don’t run at a profit,” he said.

“Our experience with municipality-operated recreational places like Meadow Park Sports Centre is that they are heavily subsidized. In this case, if there was a independent operator, there would have to be a case that there would be a profit.”

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) currently subsidizes around 30 per cent of the operating costs for Meadow Park Sports Centre. This rate has been consistent for the past 10 years.

If the municipality ran the tennis centre, the operating costs would be paid through the Parks and Recreation budget, and would have to be put into RMOW’s five-year financial plan.

“I should add that we had the benefit of input from the tennis community and a number of people who were advocating and supporting this facility who agreed that it would be beneficial to have it run by another agency other than the developer,” said Melamed.

John Konig, a committee member of the Whistler Valley Tennis Club, said that while the facility will cost money to run, the municipality does not have to pay capital costs on the project which is an advantage. He added there are several ways the tennis centre can generate revenue.

“I don’t know exactly how much it is going to cost to run it, a lot depends on how well it is built that is another issue of ours, the standard of finish that the developer builds to,” said Konig.

“There is a large restaurant space, and the restaurant will obviously be leased out to someone like Wild Wood, so that would bring in a constant flow of revenue. Other revenue ideas obviously include memberships… The new facility will have a good sized gymnasium component, which the municipality is quite confident will develop a lot of money.”

Council’s commitment to take on the tennis facility without a business plan came forward at the same meeting this week where councillors were uncomfortable with a proposal from the H.O.M.E. committee to provide 250 temporary beds, which also lacked a business plan.

Melamed said the discrepancy between the two decisions is that the Holborn tennis development does not concern temporary housing, whereas the H.O.M.E. committee proposal does.

“Where we get into different scenario is, it comes down to the issue of whether taxpayer dollars will be used to subsidize housing in Whistler,” he said.

“To date taxpayer dollars have not been directly used to subsidize resident housing. (Units) have been delivered through other mechanisms. We have a history of providing recreation services with taxpayer dollars. That is probably the strongest distinction between the two.”

The Holborn proposal has been in negotiations since May 2004 and involves the company building a tennis facility and senior housing centre, along with market housing. The tennis facility would have five indoor courts and seven outdoor courts. Holborn has guaranteed the tennis facility and senior housing amenities to the community after they are completed.

Whether Holborn will go through with this promise has been a major issue with the project. Following a meeting with council in August, Holborn and the municipality have tightened the agreement to ensure the tennis courts and the senior housing will be delivered to the community.

Part of the new arrangement is that 33 units of market housing will be built first to fund construction. The final housing units however will not be started until the amenities are delivered to the municipality.

Bob McPherson, general manager of community life for the municipality, said that even if Holborn sells the property they are still on the hook to delivery the amenities.

“We are going to be looking to Holborn to see this through. If they decide they are going to sell this land, and the provision is that Company XYZ is going to build the facility, we don’t care about that,” he said.

Konig said the Tennis Club was disappointed with the council meeting on Monday, adding that the municipality needs to see more guarantees like a letter of credit that these amenities will be delivered.

“We feel the letter of credit should be put in place as soon as the zoning is granted to the developer,” he said.

“Staff disagrees. They feel that phasing the project will secure getting it done, but we don’t want to leave any chances because this promise has been outstanding to the community for 19 years.”

Another issue is that even if council approves the proposal this year, the indoor facility would not be done until 2014 and the senior housing not done until 2016.

As Konig put it: “Six years is a long way away and any of us might be a little too stiff to play tennis anymore.”

Holborn’s Peter Lang said the up-coming Olympics makes it difficult to carry out construction until after 2010.

“The reality is that we’ve pushed this into an incredibly expensive construction market with labour shortages,” said Lang.

“Until after 2010, this is just not going to happen. There is no available stuff.”