Local construction industry adapting to changing marketplace 

Spec market flattens out and local building companies refocus their work on renos and commercial work

A quick glance at the building projects on the horizon reveals a busy construction industry in Whistler.

Along with the $19 million First Nations Cultural Centre scheduled to break ground in the village in less than six months, Whistler will see a $7 million public library, a multi-million dollar residential and hotel development on Nita Lake and a host of other projects all completed within the next two years.

Plans are also in the works for extensive redevelopment on the Shoestring Lodge/Boot Pub property, as well as the Whistler Racquet Club lands, both on the edge of the village.

On top of that there’s all the Olympic-related venues which need to be built in the coming years, such as the Whistler athletes village, the Whistler Sliding Centre (bob/luge track), the Whistler Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley and the sledge hockey arena for the Paralympic Games.

Construction is a booming business in the resort but, despite all the work ahead, it’s a changing business and local builders are adapting accordingly.

"(2004) was our best year," said Jim Charters, president of Whistler Construction. "We’ve taken on more than we’ve ever done in the past."

Whistler Construction built the Spring Creek Fire Hall last year and will be starting on the library in the spring.

Throughout the past year Charters has been president of the Whistler chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders Association, an experience which has provided invaluable experience for his company.

"It’s been a great growing thing for us to be involved with the homebuilders and it’s given us the confidence to actually expand," said Charters. Already 2005 looks promising he said, with more custom home projects in addition to the library project.

But expanding isn’t the only trick to competing in the current marketplace. Diversifying is also a key to lasting.

Local homebuilding company Vision Pacific historically has focused on the high-end residential spec market, working on multi-million dollar homes on Treetop Lane, among other expensive locales in the resort. Vision Pacific President Tim Regan said they have now branched into other sectors, namely the commercial market, with projects such as the new Intrawest restaurant at Franz’s Trail in Creekside.

"… (T)o go forward and survive, (companies) have to broaden up the skill base," said Regan. "We are definitely looking at doing more contracting work and then more commercial work."

There’s good reason to diversify, he added.

Spec homebuilding, where a developer buys a piece of land and builds on it to sell at a profit, is now out of reach for most local builders. Spec homebuilding is a high stakes gamble which for years has paid off for most developers in Whistler, but times are changing.


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