Royal Bank building to get a face-lift 

But owner unhappy about municipality’s $20,000 charge

Soon you'll be able to purchase Pocky snacks, miso soup, and Shirataki noodles from Whistler's Cornerstone building, also known as the Royal Bank building.

This week, owner Norbert Doebelin confirmed a Japanese store and restaurant plan to rent out his empty space.

The new grocery store will be designed with the expertise of Fujiya, a 32-year-old Japanese store based in Vancouver. According to Fujiya's chief financial officer Jeff Matsuda, the owner of Fujiya is a friend of the owner of the Cornerstone building.

"We are involved, but I don't think it will be called Fujiya," Matsuda said on Tuesday.

The new Japanese grocery store is just one of several changes coming down the pipe for the 20-year-old Cornerstone building.

Doebelin also plans to add a second set of stairs leading to the main retail level from the conference centre's surface parking lot, as well as a ramp.

The businessman - who also owns La Bocca, La Brasserie, Amsterdam Pub and Hot Buns Bakery - said originally he wanted to do an even bigger renovation to the Cornerstone Building. But after council voted to freeze development of Whistler's commercial core though the CC1 bylaw last year, he lost a significant portion of his development potential.

"After they (council) down-zoned, I couldn't do any major developments anymore," said Doebelin. "That is why I decided to rent out the rest of the space."

He estimated the development freeze caused him to lose $1 million to $1.5 million.

Four businesses currently call the Cornerstone building home: Royal Bank of Canada, Subway Restaurant, Whistler Wired and Daily Slice.

Doebelin's development permit got a unanimous vote from councillors during last week's public meeting. At the time, municipal planner Melissa  Laidlaw told the councillors she believes the updates will benefit Whistler during the Olympic Games and that is why staff decided to allow construction to take place now.

"I think it is in the best interest of the resort to have our resort looking as good as it can before the Olympics," she said.

To make sure there is no construction in the village during Games-time, however, the development permit Doebelin received from the municipality prevents him from doing any work between Oct. 21, 2009 and April 2010.

A similar covenant has been placed on renovation work at the nearby Coast Hotel.

Despite these timelines, Doebelin sounded optimistic this week that he can get the work done before February.

Meanwhile, Doebelin's construction plans will cause the conference centre's surface parking lot to lose one pay-parking space.

Municipal planners estimate the revenue lost because of this will be around $20,000, and they have asked Doebelin to pay them an equal amount as compensation.

This news was not welcome to Doebelin.

"I think it is pretty cheesy to charge $20,000 for losing a parking spot," said Doebelin after hearing about the charge.

"They should be glad somebody is improving the building, especially considering they down-zoned the building, and I lost $1 million to $1.5 million in development rights."

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