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Community agrees on broad vision for Lot 1/Lot 9

A sledge hockey venue, a gathering place, a community icon

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By Alison Taylor

Whistler agrees — it’s time to build something great on the last piece of undeveloped land in the village.

What that will look like for the 2010 Olympics or even 30 years down the road is still unclear. But the promise of something special was in the air Saturday afternoon as at least 150 community members worked on a vision for Lot 1/Lot 9.

For Mayor Ken Melamed, who was sitting at the back of the room as groups presented their broad-stroke visions for the land, the exercise made it clear to him there is consensus in the community about the future — Whistler wants to hold the Paralympic sledge hockey events in the resort, but it also wants to have a lasting, meaningful legacy for future generations, something more than just an ice arena.

“It sounds like there is tremendous alignment here in terms of the sense of where we want to be,” said Melamed afterwards, as the room still buzzed with conversation. “I don’t know that we’re going to have consensus all the way through the process but in terms of this stage, I think it’s very exciting and the feedback seemed to be by and large positive.”

Former Councillor Marianne Wade wasn’t as encouraged by the format of the meeting.

“I thought that we took a step backward,” she said.

She heard participants say that they had already done this work at the earlier open houses on the Paralympic arena, held last year.

“It would have made more sense to me to start from where we left off, which was all the community participation (from the earlier open houses),” said Wade. “That should have been the starting point… reaffirming that the community participation was valued and acknowledged.

“I think there was some frustration there with community members who had already done this.”

The difference this time around was that participants were divided into eight-person workgroups to brainstorm ideas for the partially forested land behind The Brew House.

Their visions differed on what the Paralympic sledge hockey arena could become in the future. But several groups talked of building a structure with a flexible platform, enabling it to transform over time and evolve to meet changing needs.

“I think most people really were in favour of doing an ice surface for the sledge hockey,” said local resident Jason Kawaguchi after the workshop. “I think that was very important. And that it (the arena) can become something else in the future.”

The structure should also be an icon in the community and more than one group described it as having a “wow” factor. Some said it should be a multi-use facility, which could service the arts or academic communities and diversify the resort’s economy even further. It should be a place where both locals and guests can congregate, a place that is protected from the elements or “weather-shielded”, but at the same time is connected to nature.

It should be a place that tells the story of Whistler, a place that families can enjoy together, where people can learn and recreate and participate.

And all of this should be affordable, said community members, and not a burden for future generations.

Therein lies the crux of the problem.

Whistler only has $20 million to build the facility for the Paralympic Games. Meanwhile, construction costs for some materials have increased as much as 40 per cent since the $20 million was negotiated. Estimates now put the cost of an arena around the $35 million mark.

“I think everybody agrees that if done properly it’ll be a great thing, it’s just how do we do that,” asked resident Tim Regan, one of the workshop participants.

“There’s going to be some expense. What happens if that expense is higher than the $20 million we’ve got, which we fully suspect will be the case? I don’t have the answers to that question.”

On the other hand, Regan put forward the argument that if Whistler opts out of hosting the sledge hockey events but still wants something on Lot 1/Lot 9, there will be no $20 million to help it on its way.

Melamed said municipal staff will now bring together Saturday’s iinput from the community, figure out what a facility encompassing that broad vision looks like and see what can be achieved with the money coming Whistler’s way.

He said Saturday’s turnout renewed his faith in the visioning exercise and he readily admits this should have been done long ago when Whistler first won the rights to host the 2010 Winter Games.

“Obviously looking back it was a huge mistake,” said the mayor.

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