Developer looks beyond Whistler businesses for tenants 

Ponce de Leon goes to unaccredited media, security personnel, athletes

Ten months after first announcing he had 300 beds available for Whistler businesses through the Olympics, Alvaro Ponce de Leon said almost no one has signed up for his temporary housing project.

But the independent project manager and architect behind Whistler Workforce housing is not giving up yet.

Ponce de Leon said this week that while he would prefer to have Whistler employees inside his modular housing structures, he is starting to approach other groups who will be coming to Whistler over the next eight months for the Olympics and Paralympics.

"Our principle was to provide accommodation to businesses, but they are nowhere to be found," said the Vancouver-based architect, his voice tinted with emotion.

"I am trying to save my project somehow. I have invested a significant amount of money in it, and the only way we can break even or make money is to follow through with this, and we will. The need is there. That is my main assumption."

Some of the groups Ponce de Leon plans to make offers to include the thousands of unaccredited media who will be in Whistler for the Winter Games, along with security personnel, Olympic volunteers, and even some of the national Olympic teams.

In fact, he said Olympic athletes from both Canada and elsewhere who want to start training in Whistler this fall have already contacted him. According to Ponce de Leon, those athletes are telling him that they cannot afford to pay the prices hotels and homeowners in Whistler are asking.

"It is a different ball game altogether," he said with a smile, adding that he is also interested in renting out some of his beds on a nightly basis for less than $350 per night.

As things currently stand, Ponce de Leon hopes to welcome tenants into his modular buildings by Oct. 1.

A long-term lease option is available from Oct. 1 to May 31, where rooms with one bed will cost $850 per month, rooms with two beds will cost $800 per month per bed, and rooms with four beds will cost $750 per month per bed. Along with a furnished room, each tenant will have access to a common lounge, cooking facilities, and a laundry room with coin-operated machines.

"We are trying to make it as affordable as possible," he said.
The modular buildings will go on a piece of property next to Whistler Village, flanked by the Whistler Racquet Club and the Wildwood Bar and Bistro. Ponce de Leon has a lease agreement with the owner of the property, Holborn Holdings Ltd.

This week a spokesperson from Tourism Whistler added there is a real chance that some of the unaccredited media coming to Whistler for the Games will be attracted to Ponce de Leon's project.
Casey Vanden Heuvel, director of communications for Tourism Whistler, said the modular housing may provide an affordable accommodation option to media representatives.

"It will likely be a more budget conscious option, and we all know with the various forms of economic impact we have seen over the last six months to a year that the media industry has been one of the hardest hit industries out there," said Vanden Heuvel.

"What I hope to discover is that this is a more potentially budget conscious option. Media that would previously not have intended to be on the ground here in Whistler may reconsider as a result of having something more affordable and longer term available."

Along with helping media connect with accommodation providers, Tourism Whistler is also managing the unaccredited media centre at MY Millennium Place during the Games.

Meanwhile, the president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce remains perplexed as to why so few businesses have signed up for Ponce de Leon's housing project.

During a similar housing proposal last year, called Phoenix, Whistler businesses signed up for 500 beds, despite the fact the project only had 300 beds available. The Phoenix housing project, which was backed by the chamber, was cancelled last October due to financing difficulties.

"I think businesses are still making decisions on what their staffing needs are for 2010," said Fiona Famulak. "I think once businesses have decided how they are going to staff up for 2010, they will be in a better position to decide what they need for accommodation."

Famulak added the chamber and tourism group Go2 are in the midst of surveying Whistler businesses to find out how many staff they plan to have during the Winter Olympics.

"At this point, from the survey results, businesses are unsure what they need and when they need it," said Famulak. "We are working with the community and Go2 at this point to develop some solutions."

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