First Nations promise not to disappoint 

Council approves development permit for Squamish/Lil’wat Cultural Centre

Within two years, Whistler’s neighbouring First Nations communities will have a place in the resort to showcase their cultures to the world.

"We will not disappoint you," Architect Alfred Waugh promised Whistler council on Tuesday night.

"This project will be a very special space and place.

"I hope this project with both nations will become an integral part of this community."

After reviewing the final design and drawings of the First Nations Cultural Centre, council approved the development permit, which is the last step before allowing the project to move ahead.

Councillor Kristi Wells said she was uncomfortable moving forward with the development permit when the issue of employee housing was yet to be resolved.

The project generates about 13 employees, which the developer must accommodate by building housing units or paying a sizable fee.

The developers have said they will find a place for employee housing in the future, either on the site or at another location.

"We don’t take letters of credit anymore," said Wells.

Though she was hesitant to hold up the project based on this concern, she still wanted to have the issue resolved before moving ahead with the development permit.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly did not share her concerns.

"The difference though (from other developments) is that they (First Nations) live here," he said, adding that most of the employees of the cultural centre will live in Squamish and Mount Currie and commute to Whistler.

"That’s one of the great things with working with First Nations," said O’Reilly.

Municipal Planner Melissa Laidlaw explained that the developers had tried to incorporate the employee housing into the site.

First they looked at putting it on the main building but it was ultimately pulled out to scale down the building.

Then they proposed putting it on another location on the five-acre site but municipal staff didn’t like that concept for environmental reasons.

Under the employee housing agreement, the developers will be required to provide employee housing, either on site or off site, within two years.

O’Reilly reminded council that First Nations also have a 300-acre land bank from the province, negotiated as part of the 2010 Olympics, which they can use for housing.

Wells did not share the mayor’s opinion but she approved the development permit making it a unanimous council decision.

The centre will stand on the five-acre site of Crown land across Blackcomb Way from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The land will be leased from the province as per a 30-year lease with Land and Water British Columbia, with an option to purchase.

The structure of the main building is inspired by the traditional versions of the Squamish Long house and the Lil’wat Eshkin, or circular pit house.

A "Great Hall" exhibition space will hold canoes, baskets and carvings, with large windows shining light into the room.

The upper level on the centre will house space for temporary exhibits.

A replica of the long house and the pit house will also be on the site, which will be built like the traditional structures in terms of their form, materials and scale.

A forest and interpretive walk will take visitors through an ethnobotanical garden.

"The project took a very strong collective process to produce," said Waugh.

Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob, alongside Mount Currie band Chief Leonard Andrew, spoke to council about their great excitement for the project,

Jacob said the First Nations were so excited to be participating in Whistler.

Site preparation and excavation is set to begin in late September. After the winter, construction will begin in spring 2005, with the grand opening scheduled for spring 2006.

Fundraising for the project is nearing the halfway mark, with $7.9 million raised to date of the $18.5 million project budget.

In June 2003, Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations received $3 million in provincial economic measures funding and $4.7 million from the government of Canada through the regional partnership fund.

The centre is expected to bring in $1.7 million in revenue during its first year of operations through admissions, cafeteria, eco-walk, theatre shows, gift shop sales and themed conferences, among other things.

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