Rent-controlled space in the Village: could it be the future? 


Vincent Massey has seen Hornby Island. He's seen Salt Spring Island. He's seen what they offer, how they attract creative types -like Mecca to the Muslims - as a place to create their art and sell it to the droves of visitors when they come.

Massey, a potter who has sold his art from his Alpine Meadows home for 25 years, has never even bothered looking to acquire space in Whistler Village, despite the potential boon to his profit margins. His reason is the same as a lot of artists and start-up entrepreneurs.

"Affordability is the main thing," he said.

It's now at the point where most new businesses in the village have recognizable logos, distilling to many what could be an otherwise unique and original mountain town experience for locals and visitors alike.

"I would love to have something in the village that was affordable, even as a group setting," he said.

During his time on the Whistler Arts Council, Massey fought hard for affordable spaces for artists, inside and outside the village. It's been a constant challenge for decades.

But one idea that's been raised - and seemed like it could have been a reality for about a minute - was an incubation program for new businesses, where the units are rent-controlled in order to get new businesses up and running.

"It's one of those concepts that's floating around and is hard to grasp but it comes up every now and then," said Mayor Ken Melamed. "It kind of stalled out because of the hard question about how you actually bring it to reality without a pot of money."

It's a concept that many people, including the mayor, are enthusiastic about and think could eventually work if a funding source can be sorted out. The point, of course, would be to create a funkier, more authentic Whistler retail experience that is not currently being offered in the village. It sprouted from the same Whistler2020 seeds that have compelled the RMOW to create the Cultural Tourism Development Strategy (CTDS) to add some vitality and authenticity to the village, to counter the tepid commercial culture that has been cultivated due to the high cost of rent.

"When you put these bits of information together is where the thought or the concept of a price controlled and occupancy retail product similar to what the housing authority does to residential (facilities)," Melamed said.

The incubation concept had the most potential during discussions by the Lot 1-9 Task Force in how to develop what is now Whistler Olympic Plaza. Initially, the plan was to build a sledge hockey arena with $20 million given to the RMOW by VANOC. Five other buildings would have been built around the stadium, one of which would have been a designated "small format retail/incubator," and modeled after Granville Island, where tenants need to audition for the opportunity to occupy the space.

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