Little interest in large resort 

Handful of Whistlerites at Garibaldi at Squamish open house

Like the first open house last June, the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish four season resort, which could change the face of Sea to Sky corridor, drew little interest from Whistlerites this week.

Just a handful of people attended Tuesday night’s open house at the Chateau Whistler to learn how the project has changed since its provincial review process was suspended last year while proponents updated their studies.

However, two of its most outspoken critics in Whistler — Mayor Ken Melamed and Whistler-Blackcomb’s senior vice president of operations Doug Forseth — were on hand to speak to the developers and voice their concerns.

Mayor Melamed said he didn’t see much on Tuesday to change his mind about his concerns with the scope and scale of the project.

“We think that that starts to impact our already struggling business,” he said.

Forseth shared similar worries about how the proposed year-round development, with its 124 ski trails, two 18-hole golf courses and more than 5,700 units of housing, including hotel rooms, single family homes, townhouses and resort condos, will affect Whistler.

In addition to possibly dampening occupancy rates in the resort, Forseth also struggled to understand how the proponents could claim to attract 1 million skier visits to their fledging resort.

“Good luck,” he said. “It’ll be a long time coming.”

Whistler, he explained, gets just over 2 million skier visits a year.

“We’re the second busiest ski resort in the world.”

He points to other ski resorts in the Interior such as Sun Peaks, which has around 350,000 annual skier visits.

“It raises the question about what this really is,” he said, adding that he believes the real estate component is out of sync with the resort amenity development.

Project president and CEO Mike Esler believes the market is there for up to 1 million ski visits — that’s what the studies show.

“It’s a misnomer that (the ski industry) is flat,” he said.

“A lot of it is just a function of infrastructure.”

He points to the provincial investment in infrastructure, in particular the $600 million Sea to Sky Highway upgrade and the $2 billion Canada Line transit project linking Richmond and the airport with downtown Vancouver, and the added ability to move people easily to the market.

The resort, he said, will go a long way to helping the province achieve its goal of doubling tourism by 2015.

“They’re not even close,” he said, of that goal.

“They need two more Whistlers…. Where are they going to approve ski resorts?”

The logical thing to do, he said, is to approve them in a place that has the infrastructure and the capacity to support more visits. And a place that is soon to be on the world map as the host of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Obviously the world wants to come to the Sea to Sky corridor,” he said.

There would be significant benefits to Squamish too, if developers are successful in lobbying to have the boundaries of the resort moved out of the regional district and into the town of Squamish.

“There’s no industry in Squamish,” said Esler, adding that the development, which is projected to be built over a 15-year period, would bring long-term sustainable economic growth.

Whistler is represented on the working committee for the Garibaldi at Squamish resort and the municipality is paying to have its own studies done on the impact the development would have on Whistler.

“We’re going to do some investigation of our own,” said the mayor.

The project is now in the last 80 days of the 180-day provincial Environmental Assessment review process. The public comment period will end on April 4.

After the EA process is complete, the EA Office will make its recommendation to the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Tourism, Sports, and the Arts, which will then have 45 days to make a decision.

To learn more or to comment on the project go to www.eao.gov.bc.ca.

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