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New tennis facility could draw new business

Municipally-owned facility would be largest indoor exhibition space in Whistler

By Alison Taylor

The municipality may become the owner of a new tennis facility that can be transformed into a massive exhibition space for the resort.

“I can’t think of a single thing that we could do, other than this, to make such a dramatic impact on our convention business, filling restaurant seats, hotel beds and our stores,” said an excited Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, following Monday’s council meeting.

“With the hoped for completion of this facility, we’re moving into a whole new level of marketing.”

He imagines countless opportunities for car shows and exhibitions that could utilize the 42,000 square feet of column-free, heated space in the indoor tennis club. That’s two and a half times bigger than the ballroom at the Telus Conference Centre, which is 16,500 square feet and currently Whistler’s largest conference space.

In some ways this deal can make up for the loss of the Paralympic arena development which council turned down earlier this year, said Zeidler.

The new deal that’s in the works is part of the re-development of the Holborn lands, beside the Montebello townhomes and the current tennis club facility, directly north of the village.

Negotiations with the developer have stepped up considerably in recent months with the involvement of senior staff, specifically administrator Bill Barratt and the general manager of community life Bob MacPherson. They have been working to find a resolution to a project that has gone through various iterations over the last two years.

The developer, Vancouver-based Holborn Group, wants to rezone the property for market tourist accommodation townhouses and apartment units, rather than build a 450-room hotel/spa, which the property was zoned for 15 years ago.

The latest proposal would see the developer build 181 units of housing as well as a 12-court tennis facility (including five indoor courts, six regular outdoor courts and one outdoor stadium court) and 23 apartments for seniors housing.

Under the proposal Holborn would hand over the completed tennis facility to the municipality in return for rezoning the land for townhomes and apartments.

Mayor Ken Melamed envisions it as a southern version of the Meadow Park Sports Centre in Alpine Meadows.

The new tennis facility would have roughly the same size weight room as Meadow Park (more than 5,000 square feet) as well as a comparably sized fitness room (3,500 square feet). There would also be a two-lane outdoor swimming pool with a hot tub, two squash courts, a pro-shop and a restaurant.

Meadow Park, however, does not make money. Like most sports complexes, the municipality subsidizes Meadow Park, although it has a higher rate of recovery than most other recreation facilities of its kind.

When asked if council had seen the financial case for taking over the tennis facility, the mayor admitted they hadn’t seen the hard numbers yet. Nor are the user fees established.

“Staff wouldn’t have made the recommendation if they didn’t think it was a financial benefit to the community,” he said, after Monday’s council meeting.

And turning it over to the municipality is one way of ensuring a quality product, said Councillor Gord McKeever.

Tennis club members like John Konig, who have been lobbying hard for the best facility for the community, were a little disappointed to see only two squash courts in the proposal, rather than the four they had been hoping for, which would allow for bigger tournaments.

That was also the reason for Councillor Ralph Forsyth’s single dissenting vote against the rezoning.

As he voiced his opposition, he realized he wouldn’t be able to sway his fellow council members.

The mayor reiterated that squash is being provided in the proposal. Staff also provided numbers to council that show the two squash courts at Meadow Park are not at capacity. They operate between 30 and 60 per cent capacity over the busy winter months.

“We’re so close I don’t think that two squash courts is the issue that should hold it back,” said the mayor.

While the deal is not yet sealed and there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved, council supported staff’s direction in the negotiations.

Konig said the tennis community’s biggest concern now is that the facility be delivered in a timely manner. They would like to see the zoning tied to a strict timeline.

“We’re quite concerned that the zoning is tied to some sort of mechanism that makes sure that this facility is delivered in a timely manner,” he said.

Zeidler also spoke to the necessity of having the tennis facility complete by the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“It’s important that we work with the developer to see that it is done on a certain timeframe because I think it’s going to be very important to have it ready well before 2010,” he said.

Michele Comeau Thompson, director of communications at Tourism Whistler, said the recreation amenities would be a benefit to the community and give Whistler another indoor advantage.

She said Tourism Whistler would be interested in participating in a needs assessment for the large conference/exhibition space to ensure the space is a good product match for the resort.

“It is different than the other products that are available right now,” she said.

“There is potential of growing conference business in Whistler.”

Tourism Whistler has increased its conference centre sales by more than 140 per cent this year over 2005, securing in excess of 60,000 room nights for 2006 and beyond.

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