Pique N Your Interest 

An arena too far

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With a little time to put it into perspective, you have to hand it to council for making the right decision not to go ahead and build a Paralympic sledge hockey arena on Lot 1/Lot 9. The bottom line is that it would be too expensive, and could never match the size and amenities of the Games venues in Vancouver.

It’s a shame to reneg on the compact Paralympic Games we promised the world, and that might have tipped a few IOC delegates in our favour, but in the end could anybody really expect Whistler to assume $40 million of added debt for the capital costs, then spend millions every year to keep the arena running?

Some might argue that the arena could actually generate revenue – host concerts, hockey tournaments and conventions, and give resort guests something to do at night and on rainy days – but I suspect the costs would always be higher than revenues. That’s why these arenas are typically labeled as community amenities, funded by taxpayers the same way we support parks, libraries, schools and other public buildings.

But the one thing I still don’t understand is how the arena could possibly cost $60 million to build, even with rising construction and labour costs.

In 2004 the City of Chilliwack opened the Prospera Centre, a 3,500-seat hockey arena that can be expanded to 5,700 seats, for just $20.3 million. An Abbotsford consortium is trying to raise $30 million (2005 prices) for a full-size Junior A rink, with 5,000-plus seats and all the amenities the players and community could hope for.

The University of British Columbia is building two Olympic and Paralympic ice sheets with enough space for a combined 7,000 spectators, plus other sports amenities, for $48 million.

And the District of Squamish, which offered to take the arena off our hands for $8 million of the $20 million promised Whistler by VANOC (pending VANOC approval) still believes they could build an arena for about $20 million through a mix of public and private investment.

So what’s the deal? Why exactly does it cost $60 million to build an arena in Whistler?

Is it our elevated environmental standards? Engineering for snow loads? The amount of site prep and design involved? Do construction workers get paid triple north of the Callaghan and south of the Soo Valley?

Or is it the fact that Whistler can’t seem to do anything simply anymore, but instead feels the need for every project to be all things to all people, built to the most expensive standards possible?

I suspect it’s the latter. A horse designed by committee is a camel, so the saying goes, and Whistler knows a little something about designing camels.

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