Cheers, tears and fears 

Community divided as Paralympic arena moved to Vancouver

Mike Thaxter believes Whistler will regret the day it said "no" to building the multi-million dollar Paralympic arena and a lasting legacy for the community.

"I think it’s the wrong decision," he said. "We’ll never get it back."

Ten years from now, said Thaxter, today’s $60 million arena investment will seem like a bargain. And by that time, the Meadow Park arena will be bursting at the seams and the community will be in dire need of another ice facility.

"A $50 million to $60 million project is going to look cheap in 10 years," he said.

As much as this one local businessman and hockey player was disappointed by council’s Monday night decision, there were others in the community who praised the change to the Paralympic Games, like Paralympian Stacy Kohut.

With Whistler’s arena scrapped, the Paralympic sledge hockey events and curling events will take place in Vancouver in larger venues with more spectator capacity.

"For someone like myself I guess I’m kind of happy to see that my friends and…the Paralympic athletes are going to be able to be on the proper-sized stage for where they are in their sport now," said Kohut.

That means better media coverage and raising the profile of the sports beyond what Whistler was capable of providing in a 2,700-seat arena for sledge hockey and in the 900-seat venue at Meadow Park for curling.

While a win for the athletes, Kohut said the real loser in the whole deal is Whistler. At one time a 5,000-seat arena was slated for the village, he said, and the possibilities for a facility like that were endless, not only for the local community but to drive tourism to the resort.

Part-time Whistler resident and one of the founding directors of the 2010 Bid Corp Board Don Rosenbloom also expressed his disappointment this week over an opportunity lost for the resort.

Rosenbloom has visited several Olympic cities around the world and has been struck with the monuments that serve as lasting legacies to the Games.

"I won’t second guess nor criticize council’s decision motivated by fiscal issues, but that doesn’t deprive me of the right to be profoundly disappointed that Whistler is now left without a landmark structure in the village that would have memorialized our Olympic Games," he said from Vancouver this week.

He pictured the arena as a place where kids could play hockey beneath the Olympic rings, a place that would be tangible evidence of Whistler’s role in 2010.

Thaxter pictured something similar – an Olympic legacy for generations to come. It’s one of the reasons why he helped produce those "Village Arena — Yes" bumper stickers last fall, to drive excitement around the arena. Now he’s left with disappointment.

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