Whistler bar and restaurant sectors come out against bowling alley 

Industry's main issue surrounds the size and scale of 616-seat proposal

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - bowling proposal An artist's rendering of a bowling alley and games facility proposed for Whistler Village that has drawn opposition from the local food and restaurant sectors.
  • File photo
  • bowling proposal An artist's rendering of a bowling alley and games facility proposed for Whistler Village that has drawn opposition from the local food and restaurant sectors.

Members of Whistler's bar and restaurant sectors have come out in full force against a bowling alley, restaurant and games facility proposed for Whistler Village.

Over a dozen letters in opposition have been sent to mayor and council, with the main concerns centring on the project's size and scale.

The application to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) calls for a renovation of the long vacant property at 4295 Blackcomb Way, formerly the AlpenRock House, which closed in 2002. The proposal from National Beeerhall Inc., a division of Concorde Entertainment Group, which operates 18 venues in the Calgary area, seeks to add a restaurant, patio and lounge on the main level, and eight bowling lanes, billiards, and other classic arcade games on the lower level, located next to Village 8 Cinemas. If approved, the venue would include 616 seats divided between the two levels, and would require a staff of around 100, according to the proponent.

While local operators have largely voiced their support for the concept, the sheer size of the proposal is what's sounding the alarm.

"There isn't a single person in the restaurant industry that would not support the bowling and the indoor entertainment," said Amy Huddle, president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler. "But the size, scale and scope of this is so huge that we really think they're missing the mark about the number of employees required and the kind of market we have in Whistler."

Brian Lee, CFO of Concorde, believes that the 616 proposed seats gives the impression of a large-scale project, but that if the two spaces were rented out to multiple tenants, their respective capacities would be similar to that of other village establishments.

"I don't think the impact of (289) seats and (327) seats on separate levels would shock anybody. The restaurant closest to us, Earl's, is of similar size (to the main level)," he said.

Rick Amantea, VP of development for Larco Investments, which owns the property, said he would not be amenable to a scaled-back project from Concorde.

"Because what they're asking to do, in all honesty, is to hold onto vacant space, and no business, no operator, no property owner in Whistler is going to be inclined to do that," he explained. "Whether (Larco leases out the vacant space to) a single operator, two, or three operators, that space is going to come to the market. It's just way more efficient to do it with one operator."

Amantea also said that the existing covenant on the underground space allows for a nightclub use of up to 409 seats, which is higher than the 289 proposed for the downstairs games area. (The upstairs restaurant, bar and patio calls for 327 seats.)

Concorde is committed to bringing in staff from its Calgary operations, said Lee, and has been exploring the idea of renting out vacant retail space that Larco already owns in Village Centre to house employees, an option that Huddle doesn't see as a good fit for the area.

"That hammered home the understanding that (Concorde) were kind of like prospectors that blew into town, kicked down a few doors and were like, 'We can do this!' without really understanding the challenges," she said.

Along with the restaurant association, the Whistler Pub Sector and the Whistler Bar Group were among those who sent letters to mayor and council. Of the 15 letters sent in all, eight were authored by the Gibbons Hospitality Group, including seven identical form letters signed by each GM of a Gibbons bar or club.

In hindsight, CEO Joey Gibbons said he would have preferred if the company had sent one letter signed by the managers instead of multiple form letters. (The RMOW takes the number of letters sent to council into account when considering proposals.)

The letters warn that adding more than 600 seats to the market would create "destructive competition," which in turn leads to "cheap drinks, fights, gangs, etc."

"This is something we have just cleaned up in the last few years, which we would not wish to revisit," it continues.

Asked for clarification, Gibbons said: "With destructive competition, (businesses) have to start cutting prices and letting less desirable people in, maybe allowing someone to stay a little bit longer than they would've liked, letting less desirable people in—whether they're gangsters or not, the barrier to entry weakens when people need to pay rent at the end of month."

Gibbons also revealed that a member of his management team brought the concept of a bowling alley for the vacant space to Larco last year, before deciding, "it wouldn't be the right fit."

Amantea challenged that version of events, saying that his company turned down Gibbons' offer because it was "well below market (value)." He added that it has always been Larco's intention to bring an entertainment concept to the space, and that he approached National Beerhall after discovering one of their venues on a trip to Calgary.

Lee believes the project would be a good fit for a growing community increasingly looking for weather-independent recreation.

"We're bringing a really good use to a really large, vacant space that's going to have some type of business operating in it, and I think the landlord sees it as a really good use that's going to provide an amenity to the community that is currently missing," he noted.

The application is set to come back to council on July 24, followed by a public hearing on Aug. 14.

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