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Nightclub owners balk at late night Olympic liquor licenses

Council grants 1 a.m. licenses for nation houses, Olympic venues during Games

Two key players in Whistler's nightclub scene are concerned about special late night Olympic liquor licenses competing with their businesses.

The temporary licenses, 10 in total, allow official Olympic venues, nation houses, Whistler Canada Olympic House (the library) and the Whistler Media House (MY Millennium Place) to serve alcohol, in most cases until 1 a.m.

Longhorn president Joey Gibbons explained that while he wants this to be a successful Olympic experience, he's concerned about this last minute turn of events having direct competition on his business, with the threat of possibly losing staff to one of the temporary establishments.

"Of course we want to support the Games and have them be the most successful they can be," he said after Tuesday's council decision.

But allowing thousands of temporary liquor seats for the Games is direct competition to him, and flies in the face of what he was told over the years.

Ironic, too, that his dad, Dick Gibbons, was one of the major donors to Millennium Place, supporting arts and culture in Whistler. Never did he imagine, said Gibbons, that it would have hundreds of liquor seats competing with him one day.

"It's just not right," he said.

Gibbons expressed his concerns in a letter to council that was considered Tuesday night.

"We expected that no unlicensed venues will become licensed late night during the Games," he wrote.

"We in the nightclub sector believe that not only will this be detrimental to our businesses, it will become tough to control and become a real negative for our community that we have helped build over the past 30 years!"

Mike Hofbauer, general manager of Garfinkel's, added in a separate letter to council: "Allowing this to happen would contravene the spirit of supporting local business that was clearly communicated to myself and our sector, and damage the operational plans of our business which we based around the recommendations of VANOC (the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games) and the RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler)."

Both asked council to limit the liquor license extensions to 11 p.m. rather than the proposed 1 a.m.

Gibbons also asked that the Whistler Sliding Centre license be pushed back to 9 p.m. to allow people to funnel back down to the village from Blackcomb Mountain in the early evenings.

"There is no doubt the creation of 'new nightclubs/pub/theatres' will pull great amounts of business out of the existing infrastructure for the nightclub, pub and restaurant sectors," wrote Hofbauer.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler highlighted the underlying sense of betrayal conveyed in the letters; that these nightclub owners didn't sell out to corporate sponsors in order to preserve the Whistler Village character, and yet now they see temporary venues playing late night hosts to Olympic guests.

Though Councillors Zeidler and Grant Lamont opposed the blanket licenses for nation houses out of the concerns raised by the two nightclub owners, the majority of council moved ahead with staff's recommendation.

"I don't see this as a trade off at the expense of the local nightclubs," said Mayor Ken Melamed.

Most of the events held at the nation houses and the venues are for invited guests only - Olympic family, accredited media and athletes.

For example, USA House is at a private residence on Alta Lake Road. Like the other nation houses, it will be used as a hosting facility for the Olympic Committee and other dignitaries and for celebrations when American athletes reach the podium.

"It's the Olympics. It's not a Boy Scout Jamboree," said Councillor Ted Milner. "These are private parties and that's what happens at Olympics.

"It's only two and a half weeks."

Councillor Chris Quinlan said that even with the low occupancy in the resort last weekend, there were still lineups outside the doors of the local nightclubs.

He doesn't predict that business is going to be a problem for the nightclubs when the resort swells to 55,000 daily over the course of the 2010 Games.

Hofbauer said while the day and evening business will swell, the late night business would only be those people that can sleep in Whistler.

"Simply put, there will be the same amount of people sleeping here as our busiest weekends in the past, and during those time periods we are still more than able to handle the volume of business - as a group," he wrote.

Last month council approved a blanket 30-minute extension of closing hours in Whistler.

It was a compromise between staff and RCMP recommendations to keep the closing times as they are, while several councillors wanted to see an hour's extension.

Council's decision means restaurants and bars can keep serving alcohol until 1:30 a.m. and nightclubs can serve until 2:30 a.m. during the Olympics.

There were two new Olympic license applications that were part of the council package Tuesday: Italy House, which will be in the Mount Currie Ballroom at the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa, and the Whistler Medals Plaza. That plaza license, however, does not extend to the spectator area, just the back of house facilities for media and Olympic family.