Village business owners weigh in on ice arena 

Concerns ripple through community as discussions continue behind closed doors

Concern is mounting among the village business community as the municipality continues to hold off on its decision on where to put the Paralympic ice arena.

For some business owners such as Norbert Roche the decision is straightforward – the facility should go on Lot 1/Lot 9, the forested land behind the Brew Pub which has long been slated as a site for community recreation facilities, such as an ice rink or a swimming pool.

"It’s vital," said Roche, who owns several businesses in town such as La Bocca and La Brasserie. "It’s a lifeline (for the village) in a sense."

The lifeline he is referring to is a facility that would draw people into the village and bring a little life back to the flagging economy, which has been on the decline for the past four years.

In recent weeks, however, it has become apparent that council has yet to make up its mind on where the facility should go as negotiations with various parties continue.

Roche addressed the issue at last Thursday’s Dialogue Café where 20 people gathered together to look at Whistler’s retail mix.

Rick Clare, who owns Whistler One Hour Photo, attended the Dialogue Café and agreed with Roche that the Paralympic arena could be a draw to bring people to the village – at least it could be one piece of the puzzle.

"I think it could be," said Clare. "Economically it could be a real challenge for us as far as supporting the infrastructure or the ongoing (operations)… But I also think that it is something that could make the village a little more lively."

Both Roche and Clare are long-time business owners in the village.

Roche, who has lived in Whistler since 1980, said the municipality has always planned Lot 1 for community facilities.

Lot 1 was deeded to Whistler when the Village North lands were subdivided in the early 1990s. It was originally to be an arena but the zoning also allows for a cultural facility. Later, the municipality bought the adjoining piece of land called Lot 9 for $1 million and it was intended to complement facilities on Lot 1. To date neither has been developed.

At the Dialogue Café community members talked about one of the key tenets of the village design, which called for the village to be a place where residents and tourists mix together to add an air of vibrancy and excitement.

The general consensus at the meeting was that that feeling was now missing.

Roche said it started disappearing when the municipality decided to build the Meadow Park Sports Centre in Alpine Meadows.

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