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Last week in this space we looked at some of the financial tools the local governments in American mountain resorts have, as discovered by Whistler council on their recent trip to Colorado and Idaho. Of most interest to Whistler councillors was how a resort sales tax collected in Aspen, Vail and other resorts accounted for more than 50 per cent of those municipalities’ revenues. The tax ties those towns’ financial health to the overall success of their resorts. By contrast, in Whistler it’s property tax that contributes approximately 60 per cent of municipal revenue. Growth — development of land — has increased property values, and thereby increased the size of municipal budgets, for years. But as everyone knows by now, there is a limit to growth in Whistler. Even if no one knows exactly what the limit is, it’s still generally agreed that at some point development should stop. According to the current Official Community Plan, we’re approaching that limit. This is why council is interested in some of the financial tools available to Aspen, Vail and others. But limiting growth affects more than just municipal coffers. Vail Associates made it clear to the Whistler delegation they need a continuous supply of real estate to sell in order to continue investing money in their mountain. In Sun Valley, local government officials felt there must always be some growth or the middle class will be forced out. In Whistler, Intrawest has benefited substantially from the growth and development. And as a public company, Intrawest must answer to its shareholders, who want to see continued growth. For the company as a whole, that’s not a problem. Growth will come from acquiring new resorts and from building at existing resorts. But the number of residential units and the amount of commercial space left for development at Whistler is much less than what Intrawest has remaining at most of its other resorts. Under the British Columbia Commercial Alpine Ski Policy, Intrawest will continue to earn the right to acquire Crown land with each new lift it puts up Whistler or Blackcomb, but it’s up to the municipality to decide if or what development rights should be allocated to those lands. Given the public sentiment toward limiting development, Intrawest probably isn’t counting on a huge windfall of development rights. So where will Intrawest’s future growth in Whistler come from? From increasing sales in other areas, such as accommodations, retail, food and beverage, rental equipment and, likely, from having a bigger stake in activities other than skiing and boarding, such as movie theatres and on-mountain amusement parks, like the one planned for Mont Tremblant. The company is continuing to seek corporate alliances and partnerships for some of these ventures. This isn’t any great revelation; Intrawest laid out its strategy several years ago. But what Whistlerites need to understand and to begin to contemplate is the impact slowing growth will have, on the municipality, on Intrawest and on themselves.

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