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Death knell sounds for Whistler’s ‘iconic’ roof

Premier’s plans for similar roof on Robson Square quash hopes



Whistler councillors are fearful that leaked plans from the premier’s office for a large wooden roof structure over an outdoor Vancouver ice rink could jeopardize the resort’s hopes for the “iconic” roof/ice rink at Lot 1/9.

“There’s not going to be any funding leftover for us,” said a disappointed Bob Lorriman.

Whistler’s funding plan for its roof/rink has always relied on financial support from the province. The worry is now that there may only be enough money for one iconic multi-million dollar structure.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who also worked on the sub-committee charged with exploring the possibilities of building the roof, was similarly pessimistic and said it “seemed unlikely” Whistler’s project would move ahead in light of the Vancouver plans.

Despite these worries from councillors, municipal staff said the work would continue as planned with the task force because they haven’t heard otherwise from the province. All the information to date is simply speculation, said spokesperson Diana Waltmann.

The province’s plans are not yet clear. But this week it was revealed in a column in the Vancouver Sun that there were plans for a large wooden structure over the soon-to-be-reopened Robson Square ice rink and they were being fast-tracked through Premier Gordon Campbell’s office.

A spokesperson for the provincial Olympic Secretariat Office said everything at this point is speculation and could not confirm the existence of any plans.

The plans, however, sound almost identical to the $18 million Whistler project, a proposed wooden roof over an outdoor ice rink in the soon-to-be-built Celebration Plaza.

Proponents of each hope to have their projects complete by 2010 to showcase B.C. wood products to the world.

Lorriman said the news of this Robson Square roof is a double edge sword — on the one side it’s nice to know Whistler was on the right track with an idea that would have garnered provincial support.

“The bad news is I think that pretty much kills our chances,” he added.

Whistler’s structure is contingent on funding from outside sources, namely one-third support from the province, one-third from the federal government, with Whistler raising the remainder in fundraising and support from the forestry industry.

“We just liked the idea of promoting B.C. wood,” said Lorriman.

The Whistler models were unveiled to the local community in mid-October, after months of planning and design work.

At that same time rumours began to surface of a similar project quietly moving behind the scenes within the provincial government.

But Dave Rudberg, general manager of Vancouver’s Olympic operations, said Tuesday he had yet to see the official drawings of the structure and the city had not received a formal submission for the plans.

“I don’t even know if there will be a submission,” said Rudberg.

There is still much to be done, he added. Unlike Whistler, the Robson Square roof project has not gone through any public consultation. That will take time, as will moving through the approvals process at Vancouver City Hall.

“Even right now it’s a very, very tight timeframe,” added Rudberg.

And therein lies a glimmer of hope for Whistler said Lorriman.

If the premier likes the idea of showcasing the wood products so much — like the log home at the Torino 2006 Games and the wooden arches outside the Beijing Pavilion planned for the 2008 Games — perhaps he will throw his support behind Whistler’s project if the timelines prove too challenging in Vancouver.

“It doesn’t mean I’m giving up,” he said, while realizing that Whistler’s time is also quickly running out if it is to get this project off the ground by the Games. The funding would need to be secured by the middle of next month if it is to be ready in time for the 2010 Olympics.

For the project’s architect, Vancouver-based Bing Thom, the Whistler location is the perfect place to show off B.C. wood, particularly during the Games when the roof structure will be continually beamed via TV into billions of homes.

“Whistler… is the best place to show off the wood,” said Thom. “If you want exposure there’s no better place for exposure for wood than Whistler.”

Unlike the Robson Square venue, which is not an official Live Site Olympic venue, the Whistler rink/roof structure is in Celebration Plaza — the heart of 2010 celebrations in the resort. This is where the nightly celebrations and medals ceremonies will take place.

Both locations — Robson Square and Lot 1/9 — are dear to people’s hearts.

That was no more evident than this Christmas with the decorations strung out on trees on Lot 1/9 appealing for them not to be destroyed by the development of Celebration Plaza.

And, said Zeidler, the response to the roof structure project appeared to be mixed in the community, particularly as it related to the cost and the ongoing maintenance of the roof/rink.

“Through the whole Lot 1/9 process for many people there was a hope and a dream for something physically iconic that would remind us all of the Olympics….” he said.

“To be honest, once the idea was introduced those people didn’t express their support in public.”

Likewise, Robson Square is an iconic garden in an urban setting, created by renowned architect Arthur Erickson in downtown Vancouver.

In October the premier’s office announced a $1.6 million sponsorship agreement with GE to revitalize Robson Square and reopen the outdoor skating rink.

“GE’s generous contribution will help revitalize Robson Square and offer people of all ages a fun, free and vibrant public place to go and become part of the Olympic spirit during the 2010 Games,” said Campbell.

The rink first opened in 1982 but closed in November 2000 due to maintenance problems with the ice.