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By Bob Barnett At the rear of Whistler’s municipal firehall carpenters are bracing forms for the addition which will provide new office space for the RCMP and the bylaws department. On the other side of the plywood hoarding a loaded dumptruck leaves the site every 2.5 minutes, as the excavation for Appia Developments’ Whistler Town Plaza continues. Across Northlands Boulevard, at the far end of the street, drywallers are giving definition to the interiors of townhouses that will finally be completed this summer. Next week, work begins on another Appia project, 54 townhomes on Lot 24. Mike Vance surveys the scene and shakes his head. "Village North was supposed to be a 10-year development," says the director of Whistler’s planning department. "And then WLC put everything up for sale and..." And the result is the summer of 1995, expected to be another record building year in Whistler. While the village area has buzzed with construction the past two summers, much of it has been in preparation for the major development in Village North that will take place this year. Of the 22 Village North parcels put on the market in the last four years only two do not yet have confirmed sales. The final six lots to be offered for sale, four townhouse development sites and two lodge sites, will go on the market next week. Don't expect them to last long. Developers will build on at least seven Village North lots this summer. Site preparation, in anticipation of construction in 1996, will be done on a couple of other lots. But Village North certainly won’t be the only construction site this summer. The pace of work on the Whistler secondary school across from Alpine Meadows will pick up in the next week or two as contractors scramble to have the $14 million facility ready for the first day of school in September 1996. At the top of Painted Cliff Road Intrawest is about to begin work on Blackcomb Springs, a 186-unit condo/hotel that is already one-third sold, even though the first phase won't be ready for another year. The second phase of The Woods, a 37-unit townhouse development alongside the Chateau Whistler Golf Course, will also be built this summer. On the Nicklaus North Golf Course all roads and services will be done this year and work on the clubhouse, which includes 18 residential units, will begin. As well, 15-20 townhouses will be built and some private houses may be constructed this summer along the course. Other residential projects include phase II of the Taluswood project on Whistler Mountain, private home developments in the Brio-Sunridge subdivision and Millar’s Pond, and a 44-unit townhouse development on Whistler Road in Nordic. Sound huge? It is. "We’ve had interest from all over the world," says George Millward, project manager for WLC Developments, the Crown corporation selling Village North lots. Indeed, another record year for skier visits (Whistler and Blackcomb combined are expected to pass Vail this year for the first time), a summer business that continues to grow even faster than winter visits and the promise of new direct flights to Vancouver from more American cities under the Open Skies policy are some of the reasons developers and investors are still buying into Whistler at a feverish pace. "It’s been market driven," says Millward of the speed Village North is developing. The cost of buying into Village North has been estimated at $28 per buildable square foot. "That sounds about right," says Victor Setton of United Properties, the firm which owns Lot 5, a hotel/timeshare site. United Properties is trying to get started this year but may only do site preparation. The company wants to create a turn-key project that it will turn over to a reputable timeshare operator. Negotiations had been going on with the Marriott chain, but Setton says there has been no commitment. Millward says $28 was the price about a year-and-a-half ago. "It’s a little higher now." For that $28 or $30 per buildable square foot developers have bought lots in Village North that are serviced, zoned for specific uses and with maximum building heights and other dimensions well defined through municipal law. At $30 a buildable square foot Lot 8, which will be a brew pub built by Mark James, would have sold for about $370,000. If you add up the maximum buildable square footage for each lot offered for sale in Village North and multiply by $30, you find WLC stands to collect somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50 million from the 60 acre site. Appia’s Whistler Town Plaza, three buildings located next to the firehall and municipal hall, will add nearly 45,000 square feet of retail space and 154 privately owned rental suites to Whistler’s inventory next winter. While retailers — some of whom have lost business because of construction noise and road work the last two summers and have felt the pinch of increasing competition for the same tourist dollar — may not welcome more retail space, additional accommodation is expected to help the situation. And developers have found a steady market for condominiums, in Village North and elsewhere in Whistler. Some, like Trilogy’s Market Pavilion, have sold out before even a shovel has broken the soil. "We’ve had a broad range of condo buyers — Canadians, Americans, Asians and Europeans," says Trilogy principal John Evans. Construction of the 29 condos and approximately 30,000 square feet of office, restaurant and retail space in Market Pavilion will start April 23. Evans says the commercial space is approaching 50 per cent occupancy. The building should be completed prior to Christmas. Roger Stacey says the second phase of Taluswood is already 50 per cent sold, with many buyers coming from the Lower Mainland, a few from Germany and more and more from Seattle. "Seattle has always been a growing market," he says. "It’s come on strong in about the last year with the exchange rate." Appia’s Dennis Serraglio reports about 85 per cent of the condos in the first two Town Plaza buildings have been sold, with Lower Mainland residents the primary buyers. Sales of Appia’s townhouse project, Stoney Creek, on Lot 24, commence this weekend. "Sales will determine when we build the others," Serraglio says of Lots 25, 26, and 27, which Appia also owns. "Some of them could be this year." But Jim MacLean of Park Georgia, developers of the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort, is cautious about condo and townhouse development. "Condo sales in the Lower Mainland have really dropped off," he notes. "The off-shore market has really slowed down in the Lower Mainland, largely because of the Canadian dollar." Park Georgia will wait until next year before developing townhouses or the golf facility on the Racquet and Golf Resort. A hotel is still some years away. This summer Park Georgia will be servicing the townhouse sites and constructing the Blackcomb Way extension, which will continue north from Lorimer Road to Nancy Greene Drive. While MacLean says he hasn’t seen substantial off-shore interest in Whistler, he predicts off-shore dollars will go into apartments and units that are in rental pools, "which is good for Whistler." Intrawest, a North American leader in condo development, reports interest in Blackcomb Springs and other Whistler projects remains high. Buyers have largely been from the Lower Mainland, but there is also interest from Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong and the U.S. Intrawest has a some parcels left on Blackcomb, so development there will continue for a few years. Village North will be the focus of construction for the next three-four years, but there will also be some infill in the existing village. Larco will eventually build phase II of Whistler Town Centre, another 140 hotel rooms. Burrard International owns the lot next to the Excalibur base station (currently a parking lot) which is zoned for a hotel, and owners of the former waterslide property hold a development permit for a hotel. As well, the descent to the Crystal Lounge will be filled in this year and Whistler Mountain Ski Corp. will renovate the village station of the Express Gondola, expanding the retail and Guest Relations areas and adding a pub. As for WMSC’s long-awaited redevelopment of the Whistler Creek area, the corporation’s development planner Howard Nemtin says: "We’re very busy on it. We have no announcement at this time, but we may have something soon." While some village businesses have suffered as a result of the construction the last couple of summers, businesses in the Whistler Creek area can’t wait for Whistler Mountain to begin redevelopment of Creekside. At a meeting with Whistler Creek merchants last week Mayor Ted Nebbeling said the municipality has heard from WMSC about "next year’s program" every year for the last four or five years. "Whistler Mountain controls, in a sense, the speed of that upgrade," Nebbeling told the merchants. "We have no legal right to say to Whistler Mountain give us back the bed units (because you are not developing them). If we could, we would. "One of the partners is not playing ball," Nebbeling said. While the pace of WMSC’s Whistler Creek redevelopment might not sit well with some, the lift company does hold one of the largest remaining stocks of bed units. With a few specific exceptions the municipality isn’t granting any more bed units — which is as most of the population wants, as demonstrated by the freestyle training centre proposal in January. So while there are a number of large tracts of privately held land in the valley — at Parkhurst, the Decigon and Lee properties, John Taylor’s holdings, to name a few — under the Official Community Plan and given the present mood of residents, there won’t be any major developments on them. Thus, with excavations in Village North well underway and the offer for sale next week of the remaining commercial lots, buildout, Whistler’s 52,500 bed unit ceiling, is starting to come into focus. Dumptrucks, carpenters and developers will continue to be busy for the next couple of summers, but in five years...

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