The Chamber of Commerce is urging local businesses to hold off renting their space to outside interests during the 2010 Olympics despite a growing demand.
Chamber president Louise Lundy said she knows there are groups actively looking for space in Whistler right now. And while she has not heard of any confirmed deals yet, she is well aware the pressure is mounting.
“What we want tenants and businesses to know is that we are working on a process to help match them with the right groups so there’s all kinds of opportunity,” she said. “There’s no need to rush into anything.”
The “right groups” are those associated with the Games and not the ambush marketers that also try to capitalize on Olympic opportunities without having paid for them.
“We want to just make sure that if they are going to lease out their space that they just lease it out to a group that is Olympic family related,” added Lundy.
The chamber is working with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the resort municipality and Tourism Whistler, to develope a process that will match interested parties with available space.
That process will be ready by July. In the meantime, Lundy is encouraging local businesses to delay any discussions or decisions.
Whistler Real Estate owner Pat Kelly said this week he had not heard of the chamber’s initiative.
He is planning to close his offices in Marketplace for at least the duration of the Games because traditionally real estate companies don’t do a lot of business during the Olympics.
While Kelly said he was open to hearing the chamber’s strategy, he wondered why he would delay a deal if it made good business sense.
“I don’t know that I would want to delay a good business decision because their strategy isn’t in place yet,” said Kelly.
“I want to (do) the best deal I can for my company.”
The chamber, and its partners, is asking for time. They will not be setting rates or negotiating leases. Those deals will be between the owners and the clients and Lundy said the market would set the lease rates.
“We expect that people are going to be business people and they’re going to do whatever is best for them and their situation,” said Lundy.
“We are going to appeal to their sense of community.”
Tricia Fenton, VANOC’s director of government service integration, said the strategy would balance the supply and demand for space. That will have an equalizing factor on the rates that are charged.
“And therefore there’s a positive experience by those groups coming in and saying ‘we got a fair and equitable deal, we got value for the money that we spent up in Whistler’ and they’re more inclined to bring those groups back,” said Fenton.
Creating that positive experience is critical to Whistler’s long-term success said Mayor Ken Melamed, and he urged businesses to take that long-term view.
“We want the perception and the news stories around Whistler to be that of a gracious host community,” said the mayor.
He pointed to Whistler’s prices in 2000. Ultimately there was a market push back on those prices and the customer was no longer willing to pay. It’s taken the last five years to re-brand the resort as a place where guests can get good value for money.
Like businesses, the municipality is also feeling the interest first hand from groups looking to rent space. The mayor confirmed there have been inquiries about Millennium Place, the library and the Whistler Golf Club.
He has met with three different countries who are looking for a national house presence.
To them all he is urging patience as Whistler works to develop this process.
Fenton said other Olympic-related groups looking for space are the national Olympic committees, the national sports organizations and their sponsors and the national and worldwide sponsors.
She could not say how much space all those groups will need in Whistler.
Of particular concern are the food and beverage locations in the resort. It is not clear how many seats will be needed to fulfill the requirements of the Olympic time period. The worry is if those restaurants are rented out and not available for public use during the Games, there won’t be enough places for people to grab a bite to eat.
Behind the Grind owner Chris Quinlan has no intention of leasing his café space in the heart of the village.
“It goes against everything I believe in,” he said.
He expects to be working around the clock through February 2010.
Lundy said five to six business owners have signed up with the chamber already, willing to rent their space to Olympic clients.
“We’re here to help,” she said. “We want you to take advantage of opportunities if they’re coming. One of our objectives is to help businesses achieve success.”
VANOC is not contractually obliged to find space but Fenton said creating the process would help everyone involved.