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Finding Function’s future

Whistler’s industrial/business park at a crossroads



It's mid-morning in Function Junction and the "toads" – the affectionate nickname for employees at Toad Hall Studios – are hard at work.

Around them local logos, mushroom stickers and random airbrushed thoughts adorn the walls, serving as inspiration for future creations. With the music pumping, the "toads" lean over a heavy sticker press, turning another custom-made illustration, the likes of which are stuck on snowboards around the world, into another homegrown work of art.

Though they may be tucked away in a nondescript warehouse on the southern fringe of the resort, Toad Hall Studios is as much a Whistler landmark as Black Tusk or Rainbow Mountain. But it’s raw, edgy and loud, and far away from the curious eyes of tourists.

For 15 years Jorge Alvarez and his partners have been running the company out of Function Junction, Whistler’s darker, coarser neighbourhood.

Like Toad Hall Studios itself, Function has come a long way over those years and now business owners, landlords and workers are engaged in an underground, vibrant debate about where the area is headed.

Some argue it should be gentrified, some want it just for industrial uses, and some want the status quo.

The municipality, while it isn't planning on rezoning the area, is open to some upgrades, such as sidewalks or expanding the transit service.

"There's nothing that we're doing actively to re-plan Function Junction or anything," said Bob MacPherson, general manager of planning and development at the municipality. "Every town needs an area like Function where the semi-industrial uses go, and we see Function continuing to fill that role."

But, like anyone who has seen Whistler's whirlwind transformation, Alvarez is worried about the future of Function and has this to say about it: "This is the real Whistler; the last bit of the real Whistler.

"Keep it real."

Off the beaten path, looking the same as industrial areas around the world, Function is a place that keeps Whistler moving and shaking. Here you'll find building supplies, car repair shops, a concrete plant, a steel fabrication shop and much more.

That's why former Whistler Mayor Drew Meredith describes Function as "the engine room of the resort."

But there are forces at play in Function and beyond which may herald big changes for Whistler's industrial/business/retail park, and that has many people thinking about the area's future.

On the one hand it is dealing with a flattening economy and an unprecedented number of vacancies. On the other hand it is poised to take advantage of Olympic development and an athletes village cum resident neighbourhood going in just across the highway.

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