Millennium Place’s future in jeopardy 

Whistler Interfaith Society not happy with proposed lease; decision must be made by Sept. 22

Transferring ownership of Millennium Place to the municipality from the Whistler Interfaith Society (WIS) has become sticky, after the interfaith society said it is not comfortable with the new lease governing their use of the facility.

In order for the transfer to go ahead as planned, WIS and the RMOW need to reach a resolution no later than Sept. 22.

But in a letter addressed to the Resort Municipality of Whistler on Monday, Sept. 15, WIS outlined their concerns, including: costs to use the space, not being able to use the space from January 2010 to April 2010, and no guarantees to use the space on a weekly basis for worship.

The municipality plans to borrow money from the Municipal Finance Authority, which meets on Sept. 23, to pay off the $3.2 million debt to the North Shore Credit Union. After that date, the MFA will not meet for another six months.

The NSCU has told the municipality they will not wait any longer and will be considering their options, including foreclosure, if the debt is not repaid.

The WIS was informed of the deadline two weeks ago and quickly called a general meeting for Sunday, Sept. 21. Peter Shrimpton, president of the WIS, said 75 per cent of the voting membership will need to approve the new terms of the transfer at the meeting.

Shrimpton said WIS is concerned because the terms of the lease, which WIS received six weeks ago from the municipality, are “very different” from the existing lease between the WIS and the Millennium Place Society Board.

“The transfer had already been unanimously approved by (WIS) by special resolution almost 18 months ago, based on certain understandings as to the terms,” said Shrimpton.

“Despite many requests for an entire year now, nothing has been received from the RMOW to follow up. Six weeks ago, the documentation arrived with our first glimpse of the new lease. Not only is that lease very different from the existing lease, but also other terms and conditions associated with the lease have changed, some substantially.”

With four days to go until WIS’s general meeting, the RMOW and interfaith society are re-negotiating the lease terms. The lease will be between the municipality and the Millennium Place Society Board.

Council voted 6-1 to authorize several documents involved in the ownership transfer, including the lease, at their meeting on Sept. 15.

“Council was not comfortable with delaying action any longer, given the risk of foreclosure, and felt it had to go forward,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

Melamed added that council thought enough time has been given to the WIS to strike a mutually acceptable agreement. The ownership transfer has been in discussions since 2007.

Councillor Tim Wake, who sits on the Millennium Place board of directors, said the municipality has made every effort to act in good faith of the interfaith society.

“I take exception to Mr. Shrimpton’s comments that the lease is dramatically altered. The spirit of it is the same,” said Wake.

“The municipality and our staff have gone the extra mile to put this thing together and still have this building as a community benefit and as a place of worship for the community. I hope the WIS can come to terms that these changes are not material to them, and the dire consequences we are going to face. The WIS will be losers if we do not complete this deal, but the whole community will also be losers.”

Bob Lorriman added: “At this time, it is in the control of members of the community, and I hope they can see their way clear to make this happen.

“This is just taking way too long.”

Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who voted against the endorsement, said he did so because of a provision in the new lease that allows Millennium Place to ask the WIS to worship at a school if there is a performance scheduled at the facility during times of worship.

“I do have a high degree of discomfort when people of faith, who got the ball rolling but could not pay the bills, are told they cannot worship at their place of worship,” said Forsyth.

Both Wake and Melamed said WIS’s use of the building can be worked out later, but someone needs to pay off the building’s debt soon.

“We are at a point where there is a choice between foreclosure and protecting a community asset,” said Melamed.

Shrimpton said he is concerned about the councillors’ characterizations of the interfaith society as being slow and uncooperative.

He added, though, that he is encouraged that council directed staff to meet with the interfaith society to discuss their concerns.

“In response to the threat of foreclosure, of course that is always a possibility, but with proper, respectful negotiations, it can easily be avoided and a solution found for all concerned parties,” said Shrimpton.

It is not clear what the credit union would do if an agreement is not reached by Sept. 22. While foreclosure is an option, legislation attached to the land says that a commercial group cannot buy the property, which was assessed at $10 million in 2007.

The WIS — once called the Whistler’s Skier’s Chapel Society — acquired the land in the early 1980s from the province.

Construction on the facility began in the late ’90s, and Millennium Place opened in May 2001. But WIS was not able to raise enough funds to cover construction costs and the RMOW agreed to provide a guaranteed loan for the purposes of reducing interest costs on the loan.

In 2005, the RMOW took over the debt payments, which are approximately $132,000 a year. To date, the North Shore Credit Union has not been repaid any principal.

In 2007, the plan to transfer ownership was developed. RMOW would pay off the loan from the credit union and provide an option for WIS to purchase the property back, for the price of the layout plus interest, for five years.

The proposed agreement would also allow WIS access to the building for religious celebrations, and the Millennium Place Society to continue operating the facility.

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