Recession killed recreation centre plan 

click to enlarge WHISTLER QUESTION COLLECTION - WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN An artist's rendering of the proposed Whistler Resort Centre, 1980.
  • Whistler Question Collection
  • WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN An artist's rendering of the proposed Whistler Resort Centre, 1980.

Walking through Olympic Plaza in the winter, chances are you'll see some people out skating on the ice. Plans for an ice rink in Whistler Village date back to the 1980s, though the original plans looked a lot different than the rink you see today.

In March 1980, construction began on the Whistler Village Resort/Recreation Centre. According to a write up in Whistler News, Summer 1980, the Resort Centre would be a "three-level, multi-purpose, indoor recreation and conference centre" of approximately 72,000 square feet (the Whistler Conference Centre today is somewhere over 40,000 square feet). The proposed budget for the project was in the $5.5- to 5.8-million range with funding provided by the Province of British Columbia in the form of a TIDSA (Travel Industry Development Subsidiary Agreement), the Recreation Facility Assistance and the Whistler Village Land Company. This budget did not include operating costs.

The list of anticipated recreation activities that would have been housed in the Resort Centre is extensive. Plans included a 20,000-sq.-ft. Olympic-sized ice rink, a 3 x 20-metre swimming pool, a whirlpool, saunas, four racquetball courts, a squash court, locker room facilities, the Golf Pro Shop for the Whistler Golf Course, and even a restaurant.

Located on the top floor, the restaurant and lounge area would seat 320 people and "provide guests with views of the ice-skating and swimming activities as well as the surrounding mountain landscape."

Many of the proposed facilities were multi-use. A system of interlocking insulated panels meant that in just under four hours the ice rink could be transformed to either carpeting or astroturf to host banquets, staged performances, tennis matches or basketball games. The Golf Pro Shop would be transformed in the winter months into a cross-country skiing centre.

When a recession hit North America and Whistler in late 1981 the Resort Centre, like much of the Village, was still under construction. With the economy failing, real estate sales falling and interest rates climbing above 20 per cent, the Whistler Village Land Company found themselves with debts of almost $8 million, liabilities coming to $30 million, and assets in the form of land that nobody wanted to buy.

In January 1983, the provincial government under Premier Bill Bennett stepped in and formed Whistler Land Co. Developments, a Crown corporation to take over the liabilities and assets of the Whistler Village Land Company. Chester Johnson, a Vancouver businessman, was chosen by Bennett to chair the board of this new Crown corporation and take over the development of Whistler Village.

One of the decisions made by Johnson was to reconstruct the Resort Centre as a conference centre without all of the extra recreational facilities. A convention business consultant and a Los Angeles architectural company were brought in to convert the Whistler Village Resort/Recreation Centre to the Whistler Conference Centre, a year-round facility meant to attract conventions and visitors to the resort. Work was well underway on the Whistler Conference Centre by the end of 1984 and was completed by 1986, with no ice rink in sight. Whistler wouldn't get an indoor ice rink until 1993 with the opening of the arena at the Meadow Park Sports Centre.

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