Tourism Whistler board takes position on arena 

Organization gets political in effort to grow resort’s economy

Within the next five years Tourism Whistler wants to see an "interactive tourism amenity" in the heart of the village to bring a little sparkle back to Whistler’s so-called "jewel".

That’s the clear message from the board of directors after a meeting on Tuesday when they took an official position on the future of two empty village lots, called Lot 1/Lot 9.

The board also weighed in with a position of the Paralympic arena. Unanimously they decided to support bringing an ice rink to Whistler, regardless of its location.

And if the ice rink doesn’t go on Lot 1/Lot 9 as once slated, Tourism Whistler would like to see a tourism amenity there before 2010 which would serve as an Olympic legacy for Whistler.

"We are taking this position because our organization represents tourism in Whistler and tourism drives Whistler’s economy and we believe that whatever occurs on Lot 1/Lot 9 must be a positive supporter of tourism," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher.

"We believe that Whistler needs more activities and amenities that are attractive to our tourism base, from families to couples to seniors, and we want to ensure that we continue to develop Whistler’s product in a positive way that boosts tourism and ultimately boosts our economy."

The board’s decision will be passed along to council in a formal letter. Ultimately council will be making the tough decision on the arena and the future of Lot 1/Lot 9, which is owned by the municipality.

Tourism Whistler’s position comes after much speculation about the future of Lot 1/Lot 9 and the potential to build the Paralympic arena there.

Since the Olympic bid the village site was slated to hold a 3,500-5,000-seat arena for the sledge hockey events during the Paralympic Games. Whistler was to get $20 million from the Vancouver Organizing Committee to build the facility, which was estimated to cost about $40 million.

Now municipal staff is recommending an option that would see a second ice sheet built at Meadow Park with an $8 million contribution from VANOC. In this scenario, Squamish would receive $8 million or more and the chance to build the arena. There is still no plan for Lot 1/Lot 9 though staff is now investigating the best use for that site.

The Tourism Whistler board is not convinced Lot 1/Lot 9 needs to be the location of the ice rink. But they are interested in suggestions such as an amphitheatre or an outdoor skating rink – things that will get people into the village again, and entice visitors to the resort.

"We think options such as that could be quite dynamic and as long as they provide animation, ambiance, vibrancy, excitement that attract tourists to the village and attract visitors to the resort… then we think that that is very positive"

Most importantly, however, Tourism Whistler wants to be at the table and involved in the discussions about the future of Lot 1/Lot 9.

"Because we would like to see that tourism amenity be very much tourism driven, we feel that the tourism organization should be involved in the discussions surrounding that," reiterated Fisher.

One of Whistler’s options right now is to walk away from the $20 million contribution for an arena, walk away from the $8 million contribution for a second ice sheet and simply accept $2 million from VANOC.

That is not an option Tourism Whistler supports.

"The one option that we are not prepared to support would be the option to do nothing and receive $2 million."

When asked if Tourism Whistler was getting more political in recent months, first with a decision to pursue an airport study which the municipality refused to fund, and now with a position on the arena, Fisher said simply that their goal as an organization is to grow tourism business in Whistler.

"We recognize that we have to take a leadership role as Tourism Whistler identifying what are the product offerings that our guests are looking for," she said.

"We do have research that says we would see a growth in tourism if we had a regional airport and we do have research that says we would see a growth in the family market if we had more family product amenities in Whistler so yes, absolutely, it’s critical that Tourism Whistler takes a leadership role in sharing our tourism research and working closely with our resort partners in growing Whistler’s tourism economy."

Council has until Sept. 30 to make a decision on the arena.

There is expected to be some discussion about it at the September 6 council meeting although the official staff report isn’t coming forward until the Sept. 19 meeting.

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