Neither good, nor bad... just the future 

  • Photo by mike crane / tourism whistler

Renaissance, eh?

Before wading into the merits or otherwise of what the MotherCorp is proposing, let's clear up one thing that seems unequivocal: The name Renaissance sucks!

It's pretentious, pompous, puffery. It debases — not that it hasn't been debased already — both the word and the concept of renaissance, reducing it to the near meaninglessness of, say, sustainable. It's laughable compared to either of the historical periods known as The Renaissance. It is a huckster's marketing word, a shill to the, in this case, wealthy and fatuous who can't soil themselves in a mere five-star hotel. It hangs in the air like cheap perfume.

But that's not the worst of it. It's derivative. So what, I hear you say; what isn't? Ah, but in this case, being derivative is cringeworthy. There are lots of mediocre commercial real estate projects that have abused the name renaissance to alchemically change a pig's ear into a silk purse, albeit a moth-eaten silk purse. But one project in particular should have been a knockout blow to this particular development being branded Renaissance.

In 2008, Vail commenced its own Renaissance, a $2-billion remake that rose in the Lionshead base and spread like kudzu, spawning a massive, ersatz Bavarian hotel, pricey townhomes, multi-million dollar chalets, health clubs, private skiers' clubs, and, oh yeah, a bowling alley.

Having spent decades now contorting ourselves in every way possible to differentiate Whistler from, especially, Colorado ski resorts, we launch — and I use the word to invoke the same mixed feelings of dread and hilarity as North Korea's missile launches — our own Renaissance. Really? Whoever's left in Vail this time of year must be chortling to themselves, "Renaissance, they say. And a mere $345 million dollars. Canadian dollars mind you. Pity, that?"

This particular aspect of WB's announcement is easy to fix. Sure, it'll cost a little to launch a rename but it'll be money well spent. We don't mind being laughed at, we just don't like Vail laughing.

There's a lot to consider and a lot to be said about the project formerly known as Renaissance. For the time being, I'll just refer to it as .

It is both heartening and laudable the MotherCorp is willing to invest that kind of money into Whistler's entertainment infrastructure. It is no small undertaking. It evinces a faith in the future, albeit a future that moves away from our sleepy ski town past. WB could, as easily, sit back, milk what's in place for what it's worth for as long as it holds out and let their shareholders happily count increasing dividends. We should be, and are, gratified they've chosen this alternative.

Say what you will about WaterWorld, or whatever it's called, but it'll be a hit. People will be lined up to get wet, slide, pretend they're riding the wild surf and distract themselves with whatever other amusement is offered, op.cit., bowling. You can see the future in the confused faces of the throngs milling through the village on any nice summer's day. "What else is there to do?" This'll be something else, something ironically rain-proof, something that doesn't rely on snow for a thrill.

They'll be lined up at the luge coaster thingy too. They'll get the thrill of the rubber-tire bobsleigh ride without the expense, pretension or ongoing taxpayer support required to keep the White Elephant limping along.

The whole of the complex at Base II will free up the current summer carnival space outside the Daylodge. After all, six-starers aren't going to want to look out over a mess of screaming children. One hopes they'll at least not mind the farmers' market twice a week during non-winter season.

There are those who say Whistler is bereft of ultra-high end accommodation. This is true. They say it, however, as though it's a bad thing. Whatever. On balance, the ultra highenders are a demographic slightly more desirable than Surrey thugs; at least they don't go around knifing people, preferring withering looks to shivs. I'm certain whatever is built will be tasteful.

But there are, most definitely, issues surrounding . First and foremost is growth. WB says they have the bed units, 450ish, to build the townhomes. Depending on who you talk to, there either are or aren't transferability issues with those bed units. Time will settle the dust surrounding that issue.

But they will need bed units for the six-star hotel, 200 to 300 according to Mr. Brownlie. Those may or may not be in the bed-unit cap — assuming there still is one — available to developers offering outstanding community amenities. offers outstanding community amenities. Whether they exist or not, they represent a value, an ask of the RMOW worth somewhere between $16 and $27 million.

But for years now, we've been chasing a chimerical creature known as occupancy rate. We never seem to catch it, although this remarkable year of both snow and cheap Canadian dollars has brought us within reach. But this has been a remarkable year. And adding 600 to 800 more bed units isn't going to help capture the beast. Queue more festivals and more animation. More ways to bring more people to more beds.

This would probably be a good time to hold one of those raucous public discussions on limits to growth. Do we still have any?

will also exacerbate all of the hot-button issues we've wrestled with this season. It will make the shortage of worker bees more acute. It'll put more pressure to build more and more restricted housing to attract and keep more and more staff, not just to keep operating but to provide for all the downstream needs of those extra 120,000 hotel nights folks, some of whom will be very demanding.

In that sense, impacts every other business in town. It also impacts them by shifting the centre of gravity further up the flank of Blackcomb. That new Magic Gondola is only going to bring those folks back to the base a little lighter in both their wallets and free time.

And it hardly needs to be said will increase traffic at those times it seems as though traffic can't possibly be increased without seeing SUVs riding atop other SUVs.

None of these issues are insurmountable. All need to be surmounted. Most require a collaborative effort on the part of WB, the RMOW and the community. The impacts are far too large to leave anybody out.

Philosophically, sadly for some, represents, in some ways, a formal end to any lingering notion Whistler's a ski town, or even a mountain resort. We'll still have great skiing, but the investment needed to make a reality is a clear commitment to solidifying Whistler as an entertainment destination, carnival town being, perhaps, too pejorative an image.

Neither good nor bad; just the future.



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