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Tennis players knock down developer’s plans

Club members still waiting for world class facility promised in 1988

An international developer met his match in Whistler this week in a showdown with some angry tennis club members.

On Tuesday night Jimmy Yap of The Holborn Group presented club members with a proposal to revamp the Whistler Racquet Club as part of plans to develop townhouses and condos near the site. They in turn shot back with a resounding reply: it simply isn’t good enough and it does not meet the promises that were made in 1988 for a world class tennis facility in the resort.

"That’s our expectation for a starting point," said club member Tim Regan.

"We want to be shown some love and this ain’t it."

Roughly 55 club members filled a room at the Coast Whistler Hotel to hear Holborn’s plans. They didn’t like what they saw or what they heard and what ensued was, at times an emotional rally of words, as the anger and frustration of 17 years spilled out.

The plans include a renovated tennis club, complete with four new indoor courts and an exercise facility 60 per cent bigger than the existing one. It would have a new members’ lounge and court viewing area and the outdoor courts, which are starting to grow fungus and can be slippery at times, would be completely upgraded. It would cost several million dollars to complete the renovations.

"What I’m going to build is better than what you have right now," said Yap.

While it’s true Holborn’s new proposal is a step above the current facilities, it’s a far cry from what was proposed to the community all those years ago — namely a top-notch golf instruction facility, a luxury spa in a five star Hyatt hotel and a world class tennis facility called the Bjorn Borg Whistler Resort.

This proposal was approved as the municipality looked to expand its summer amenities and draw guests to the resort for activities other than skiing.

A company called Park Georgia was to build it all. Instead, they built the Montebello town homes and a tennis club, which has fallen into disrepair over the years.

Its members now want some answers.

At the heart of the issue are the promises that were made to the community all those years ago in exchange for the development rights on that land.

Regan said there would have been no development rights on the land were it not for the amenities promised.

It is still not clear who is legally responsible for delivering those amenities, if indeed anyone is still responsible. Yap told the group he does not have a legal obligation to meet those promises.

In an interview with Pique Newsmagazine following Tuesday’s meeting, Yap explained his position. When he bought the land from Park Georgia, he bought it with a development permit for a nine-storey, 450-unit hotel.

"It (the development permit) does not say that I need to redo the tennis club," said Yap. "(But) there seems to be a moral obligation for the community, something that I inherited."

He said he is willing to spend in excess of $5 million to fulfill that moral obligation and upgrade the facilities. Judging by Tuesday night’s meeting, that is not a compromise some of these tennis players are willing to accept.

And it still does not solve the problem of why these amenities were never delivered in the first place.

"If you have no obligation then it’s the municipality we should be going after," said one person at the meeting.

What makes the situation all the more interesting is that Holborn does not want to build a hotel on the site. Instead Yap wants to rezone the land for 95 condo units, 58 townhouses and a seniors housing building, a proposal arguably more profitable than a hotel, particularly in the current economic climate. A rezoning application, for all intents and purposes, puts this redevelopment in an entirely new ballgame. A rezoning of this scale and size could prompt the municipality to simply ask for amenities, just as they did with the Nita Lake Lodge rezoning. There, in exchange for the development rights of a hotel, the municipality got two employee housing projects.

It was clear from Tuesday’s meeting, however, that there is a distinct feeling of mistrust from club members about the developer’s future plans.

"We don’t feel as though we’ve been consulted," said club member Patrick McCurdy.

Among other things, members are worried that Holborn will develop condos on the land, make money and disappear, leaving behind a tennis club with no one to look after it.

Garry Watson, a voice of reason at the meeting, offered a suggestion to form a committee of six to eight tennis club members who could work with the developer to arrive at a solution agreeable to all parties.

The developer was amenable to that suggestion.

"I’ll be happy to work with them," said Yap the following day. "There’s been a lot of miscommunication… Really, if I don’t do anything things will just deteriorate."