Editorial 

Time’s up, questions remain

“We’re asking the community to trust us a little bit, that we’re trying to come away with the best options for ourselves long-term and maybe (leave) the legacy for one of the other communities because that’s what partners do.”

- Former Mayor Hugh O’Reilly

For nearly 18 years a stand of trees in what is now Village North has been designated for a cultural or recreational facility. The land, known as Lot 1, was acquired by the municipality as part of the deal that returned the conference centre and the Whistler Golf Course to Whistler and gave the provincial government the right to sell off the remaining parcels in Village North to developers.

It was thought a rink or pool would be built on Lot 1, but Whistler couldn’t afford to build there in the early ’90s, so both were eventually developed at Meadow Park.

In the mid-90s, with most of the parcels in Village North either developed or under construction, the municipality acquired Lot 9 for nearly $1 million. The purchase was supposed to help facilitate development of a community facility on Lot 1, but the whole project was always a little out of the municipality’s price range.

The bid for the 2010 Olympics was an opportunity to finally build an ice rink on Lots 1 and 9, with $20 million in funding from Olympic organizers. When the Olympic and Paralympic Games were awarded in 2003, there was plenty of time to work out the design details for the arena — a facility that would allow all the Paralympic events to be held in Whistler.

But by the summer of 2005, with no design in place, arena costs were already starting to balloon. Word leaked out that municipal staff were holding closed-door negotiations to move the 5,000-seat Paralympic arena to Squamish and still get $8 million from VANOC to construct a practice ice rink at Meadow Park.

Strangely enough, when people found out they were being misled, they got upset. With visitor numbers down for at least the third year in a row, many — particularly in the business community — said Whistler needed to reinvest in the village and create something “with sizzle” that would draw people to town. One councillor suggested Whistler needed “some shock and awe tactics to revive our economy.”

Municipal staff recommended giving up the arena, but following two open houses in the fall of 2005 (an election year) councillors voted unanimously to pursue an arena. Projected costs ranged from $27 million to more than $61 million, although Whistler still didn’t know where it was going to get money beyond VANOC’s $20 million.

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