First Nations postpone cultural centre groundbreaking 

Lil’wat and Squamish Nations are delaying the groundbreaking for the First Nations Cultural Centre in Whistler until next spring.

Originally slated for site excavation this fall, the work will not begin for another six months.

"We just want to make sure that over the winter we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s and everything is set to go," said Lyle Leo, lead negotiator, Lil’wat Nation Economic Development.

"We didn’t want to jump at groundbreaking and not have it all together."

Despite the six month postponement the centre is still set to open in 2006, roughly 16 to 18 months after construction begins.

The Squamish/Lil’wat Cultural Centre will be modeled after the traditional architecture of Whistler’s neighbouring First Nations. It will stand on the five-acre stretch of forested land across from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the corner of Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road.

Last month both nations finalized the business plan for the cultural centre, which will cost almost $20 million. Leo said they are now exploring opportunities to boost the environmental building standards of the centre from a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating to a platinum rating, the highest possible rating in the environmental LEED standards. But that upgrade could cost roughly $1.7 million more.

Leo said the added cost for a platinum rating is worthwhile in the long run.

"We do see, with the saving in energy etcetera, that we would have a return on investment in the next five years I believe," he said.

Last summer the federal and provincial governments announced a contribution of almost $8 million to the centre – $3 million from the provincial government and $4.7 million from the federal government.

Leo could not discuss the details of subsequent funding arrangements other than to say that they have identified the funding commitments in the budget and that those commitments involve public and private partnerships.

"It’s confidential right now but we don’t have a problem with the funding component," he said.

The centre will be a place to showcase both the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations’ cultures to the world. Along with an exhibit space for canoes, baskets and carvings, there will be a mini totem pole park and a botanical garden.

Revenue will be generated through admissions, cafeteria and gift shop sales, theatre shows and themed conferences, which will offset operating costs.

Leo said: "We see it’s a challenging type of business but we see… Whistler as a different area and (a) different opportunity for a cultural centre."


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