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"Why isn’t my office there anymore?" Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden asked during Monday’s council debate on the original Whistler Village and efforts to "revitalize" it. Good question. The municipality is spending some time and money to find out, and will be consulting businesses and locals before deciding on a course of action. Monday’s debate was sparked by objections to a plan to allow commercial vendors with mobile carts in the village as part of the revitalization effort. Council members agree with merchants that this would be unfair competition for the existing businesses who have to pay rent, triple net and WRA fees. But the original village has gone through a downturn in recent years, for a number of reasons. First of all, the original buildings are nearly 20 years old, and some of them have not aged gracefully. Secondly, the development of Village North has opened up opportunities for businesses that needed more space, which started an exodus. Village North also provided more — and more convenient — parking than can be found in the original village. Bylaws restricting signs and outdoor activities have also been too inflexible and have contributed to the current need for revitalization. Today, as Councillor Wilhelm-Morden described it, the original village has taken on some "Disney aspects." It was designed to bring locals and visitors together, but as Whistler has grown additional liquor outlets, grocery stores, hardware stores and professional buildings have sprung up outside the village core so that locals have less need to go into the original village, leaving it primarily to visitors. Revitalization clearly requires more than a coat of paint, although that’s not a bad start. Bylaws are in the process of being re-written to allow more creativity in signs and use of public spaces. Efforts are also being made to bring more public art into the village. Landlords who benefited from years when the supply of retail space couldn’t meet the demand, prior to Village North opening up, should also be willing to step up and contribute to revitalization efforts. And — in some ways the most difficult thing to achieve — the overall mix of shops, cafes and bistros has to appear intriguing and inviting, as opposed to appearing like they exist only to relieve visitors of spare change. But for all its problems, the original village is, in many ways, better than Village North can ever be. The design works; the original village leads pedestrians to the mountains, invites investigation of corners and alley ways, and returns people back to somewhere else that’s interesting, rather than to a parking lot. The scale of the original village is also more human. When Whistler held a welcome home party for Ross Rebagliati this winter it was in Village Square. The revitalization of the original village is going to require an investment of capital and of ideas. Starting the process now, so that it keeps pace with the Creekside redevelopment, will pay dividends for all of Whistler.

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