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Corridor communities vie for ice arena

Whistler has yet to decide if it wants Paralympic facility



If Whistler doesn’t want the Paralympic ice arena in town, there are plenty of other corridor communities clamouring for the chance to have it.

That much was apparent at Monday’s regional district meeting when the directors representing Pemberton and Area C asked the board to support them in their efforts to get the facility in Pemberton, should Whistler decide not to build it in the resort.

That request brought forward more requests, from the directors representing Squamish and Lillooet, who would also like to be considered as potential locations for the Paralympic ice arena.

"What we’re hearing from our residents is the question: ‘where’s our Olympic legacy?’" said Area C Director Susan Gimse after the six-hour Squamish-Lillooet Regional District meeting. "So it’s an opportunity for us and we’re going to take advantage of it, if we can."

Though he supported their request to send a letter of intent to the Vancouver Organizing Committee, Whistler’s Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the board’s discussion was a bit premature. Whistler has not decided whether it will put the ice arena here or not.

"We’re still in the game, there’s no doubt about it," he said, after the meeting. "If it’s appropriate for us, yeah, sure we’re going to take it. That was what we negotiated. But if there’s something… better, and there’s something put together, then we’ll have to look at that too."

The deadline for Whistler’s decision is looming. By the end of July/early August council must decide if it will leverage the $20 million from VANOC to build what is described in the Olympic Bid Book as the Whistler Entertainment Complex/Multipurpose Facility. That venue is slated to be the venue for Ice Sledge Hockey during the Paralympic Games.

The Bid Book points to Lot 1/Lot 9, the partially-forested, municipally-owned land behind the Brew Pub, as the location for the facility.

The municipality has also been looking at two other sites. They include the possibility of twinning the Meadow Park facility or building it in the south end of Whistler near the athletes village.

O’Reilly said there’s no question Whistler can build the facility, even with soaring constructions costs and the added costs of building on poor soil.

"(The sites) all come with the same set of challenges," he said. "Soils are all terrible everywhere, that’s the bottom line. So that makes stuff really expensive."

But the cost is not the sticking point he said.

"The key issue is not can we afford to build it," he explained. "Yes, we could probably afford to build what we need to do with it. (The issue is) who can utilize the facility the very best? And who’s going to have the best legacy in the next 20 to 30 years…"