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Chef dismayed by private municipal restaurant deal

Taxpayer money going to Cheakamus Crossing restaurant

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Chef Grant Cousar of Whistler Cooks said a private restaurant deal between the municipality and the legacies society has not been transparent.

He too was interested in the municipally owned restaurant space at Cheakamus Crossing but when he sent a letter several months ago his inquiry fell on deaf ears. No one called him back.

And so, when he learned last week in Pique that the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society was in the home stretch to complete a closed-door deal with the municipality, a deal that includes municipal money, his reaction was simply:

"Same old, same old... We have an ineffective administration and council that does not want to seem to operate with either ethics, morals or clarity."

Mayor Ken Melamed, while not speaking directly about Cousar's letter, said there was very little interest in the space, built as part of the athletes' village. The unit zoned for a restaurant is one of six commercial units owned by the municipality through its company Cheakamus Leasing Corp. (CLC), of which it is the sole shareholder. The Whistler Development Corp (which built the athletes' village for the municipality) and the Whistler Real Estate Company tried to lease the space for about eight months leading up to the 2010 Games, to no avail.

"It's been a struggle," said the mayor, of the interest to fill the units.

"So we kind of had to go knocking on some doors and giving some thought as to how this was going to work out and ended up speaking to (Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies) because they had a need for a food service, as did we."

The legacies society was set to build a restaurant in the athletes' lodge to feed visiting athletes staying there and cater to events at its three venues, including the Sliding Centre and the Whistler Olympic Park. It was in a partnership with the Bearfoot Bistro to meet those needs.

Through ongoing negotiations, the society has now entered into a deal with the municipality to lease the restaurant space, and forgo building a commercial kitchen in its neighbouring lodge. The Bearfoot Bistro will be in a joint partnership with the legacies society and together they will share any future profits.

The details of the municipal portion of the deal are under wraps. But, the mayor confirmed this week that the municipality would be putting money on the table in the form of tenant improvements to the space.

Just how much money, and how much the lease rate is, are two details that were not forthcoming this week.

"We have to look at what we can reveal or not," said Melamed via phone from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Halifax this week. "We're in a business relationship as landlords. We'll behave more or less as other landlords do. At this point in time I believe we're keeping the terms of the lease confidential but I'm going to defer to staff on that because I don't know where we are and what we're prepared to release and what we're not."

Staff reiterated this week that the terms of the lease are not being released.

"There are some leasehold improvements and we knew that going in," said the mayor. "The space was really just blocked out and tagged as a potential restaurant space but the kitchen isn't in. That wasn't put in prior to the Games. We knew those tenant improvements were going to be required and that's one of the reasons why the numbers are confidential because there's some cost sharing in the upgrades."

When asked if the municipality would spend money on tenant improvements for a private restaurateur, had one come to the table before the legacies society, he said:

"Yeah. As a landlord that's a negotiation between you and your tenant. That's quite common."

Colin Pitt-Taylor, who has owned and operated a couple of caf├ęs in Whistler, was also interested in the space, but he was too late.

When he began making inquiries he was told the legacies society was also interested and a deal was in the works.

"They kind of had the inside track and I was kind of left on the outside, hoping, but I didn't get anywhere negotiating-wise because I never got to the point," said Pitt-Taylor.

He lives at Cheakamus at is excited of the prospect of a new restaurant in the neighbourhood.

"I think it's great that he's in there," said Pitt-Taylor of the Bearfoot.

The mayor also said that it in addition to gaining an amenity in the neighbourhood, the deal also helps the legacies society.

"We're actually pretty excited about getting a restaurant established down there and at the same time, helping out the sport legacies society," he said. "In order to make the athletes centre successful and the lodge, it's important. We need a food service there."

 

 

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