By Clare Ogilvie
Whistler’s late ’70s meandering street design with attractive and animated ground floor storefronts and condos above is now the wave of the future when it comes to developing shopping centres.
The idea of building mixed use shopping malls with residential, amenities, retail, office space and more is quickly becoming the norm across the country and around the world.
And while Whistler’s plan, put in place by designer Eldon Beck, has kept the highrise side of it to a minimum it seems in many ways to be the blueprint for success.
This week close to 2,000 developers, architects, retailers, financial gurus, analysts, lawyers, consultants, management companies and technology representatives came to Whistler to take part in the annual International Council of Shopping Centres conference, where they heard all about the growth, success and challenges of mixed use development.
“(Whistler) is a very early picture of having that animation at the street level….” said Vancouver’s Bob Rennie, owner of Rennie Marketing Systems and a panelist at the conference on mixed-use development.
But Whistler does differ in one very important aspect, said Drew Meredith, who was also a presenter at the conference, there are many different landlords in the resort rather than just one overseeing the whole centre.
And the municipality itself is also responsible for the upkeep of much of the village.
“I do think we need more shine on the apple,” Meredith told delegates Monday in explaining why he thinks the town will see more municipal money spent on refurbishing the village in the coming years.
He noted that there has been significant turnover in the retail sector in the village in recent years, adding that vacancy stands at about 5 per cent currently.
The turnover may be partly explained by the fact that retail space has gone up by 12 per cent since 2000, while the number of retailers has declined.
“Our costs have also gone up through the roof so margins were squeezed so badly that we have seen quite a significant turnover in the village, which quite frankly, was highly over due,” said Meredith, adding that the hosting of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games is also likely to shake the resort.
There is no doubt that the advent of the Games is creating a buzz amongst retailers.
In June a unique and premiere Nike store will open in the Mountain Square space vacated last year by Spirit of the North. And while owner/operator Marshall Myles said the Olympics aren’t the only reason he wanted to open this landmark store, it was part of the equation.
“Nike is one of the outfitters of the U.S. Olympic team and having presence in Whistler is very important in terms of the Nike brand and what is going to happen in 2010,” said Myles, former CEO of Roots and the man behind the first Roots store in Whistler.
“I have been in retail for 30 years and I can tell you I love Whistler. It is one of my favourite spots in the country and the market gets stronger and better every year.
“It is great the Olympics are coming but it never had anything to do with my decision. I would open that store in a heartbeat without the Olympics. I really believe in the market.”
Myles said the 3,200 square foot store would carry merchandise unique to both Nike and Whistler.
“It will carry the premier product and a lot of exclusive product that is not available anywhere else in the country,” he said.
Nike’s presence did not come cheap. Commercial rents in the general area range around $100 a square foot and it’s likely the brand giant paid substantially more than that for the prime location.
Myles would not comment on the terms of the rent but did say: “We are definitely paying a premium for the space itself and I feel that it is worth every penny because the bottom line is, this is a world class destination.”
Myles said he fully expects the location to turn a healthy profit despite the high rent.
“I have every intention of this store being profitable,” he said.
“The goal is to be profitable and successful and create a great store in a wonderful market.”
Last year was a strong year for retail sales across Canada, and 2007 looks set to hold the pattern.
“This continued momentum in consumer expenditures is reflected in total retail sales which have grown quite steadily since the fall of 2004,” said ICSC Canadian division vice-president Peter Sharpe.
Total sales advanced 6.4 per cent during the first 10 months of 2006, a growth rate slightly better than all of 2005. At the provincial level sales in all provinces were higher in the first 10 months of 2006 over the same period in 2005. In B.C. sales were up 6.7 per cent for that time frame. Alberta stole the show with sales up 16.7 per cent.