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Four concepts for Paralympic arena well received

Landscape architect Eldon Beck on hand



More than 200 people attended Saturday’s public forum on Lots 1 & 9, where four concepts for a Paralympic arena and surrounding buildings were presented.

"Lots 1 and 9 are close to the centre of the whole valley," said Eldon Beck, who began his involvement with the design of Whistler Village in 1978. "If this becomes the heart or the centre of Whistler, that would be wonderful."

The four concepts – dubbed The Solar Rink, The Sunny Island, The Mountain Tent and The Frozen River – were developed by a team that includes Beck, Mark Lakeman, Bruce Hemstock , municipal staff and a panel of community members, based on public feedback from a January workshop.

"Intangibles are things you can’t measure," Beck told the workshop Saturday. "Good planning starts with intangibles, and I think the list of words and values that came out of the January workshop – ‘authentic,’ ‘magical,’ ‘animated’ – are intangibles."

Lot 1/9 Concepts ”…These 4 design concepts were presented to Whistler residents at Saturday’s workshop.”

An arena is the centerpiece of each of the four concepts, with a public plaza or gathering space outside the arena. Each concept maintains a tree buffer along Blackcomb Way.

Three of the arena concepts include free-form ice shapes that would accommodate an International Ice Hockey Federation-sized arena for the Paralympics but would also convey the idea of a frozen pond or stream. Temporary bleacher seating could be provided for the Paralympics and other special events but benches, logs, rocks and other informal features around the arena would provide seating at other times.

In addition to skating, the arena has the potential to host cultural events, conferences, festivals and other recreational events.

A variety of mixed use buildings surround the south and west flanks of the arena in each concept. No specific uses were identified for the buildings. Instead, they were identified as mixed community commercial, with commercial accommodation on the second floor, or community services institutional, possibly including employee housing above. Total square footage of the mixed use buildings ranged from nearly 80,000 square feet in the Solar Rink concept, to approximately 54,000 square feet in the Sunny Island concept.

Mike Kirkegaard, Senior Planner with the municipality, told council Monday that 76 per cent of written responses received at the meeting supported the general direction of the four concepts.

In terms of concept elements, the Sunny Island was favoured by 45 per cent of respondents, with the Mountain Tent concept elements endorsed by 22 per cent of respondents. The Frozen River received 16 per cent and the Solar Rink 7 per cent.

When it came to overall concept preference the Sunny Island was again tops, with the support of 40 per cent of respondents, but 32 per cent preferred something other than the four concepts presented.

Participants were also asked to list their top three priorities from 11 statements presented Saturday. Kirkegaard presented the results to council on Monday. Number one was: "Establish a lasting legacy that has a financially sustainable business plan and is not a financial burden on the resort community." Number two was "Provide flexible and adaptable spaces and facilities that create diverse opportunities for new value-added complementary offering sin recreation, leisure, arts, culture, heritage and learning opportunities." Number three was: "Establish a socially dynamic gathering place for residents and visitors that is welcoming, comfortable, safe, affordable and accessible for everyone."

"This is an important project," said Kirkegaard, "and I think people appreciate being involved. And we can still address ideas; we’re at the concept stage."

Kirkegaard said there is lots of work still to do, as far as programming, architecture, financing, technical requirements and sustainability.

The total development on Lots 1 & 9 is intended to be a showcase for sustainable practices.

No capital or operating costs were presented for any of the concepts, but Kirkegaard said officials are pursuing additional sources of capital funding. These include money VANOC has set aside for a medals plaza in Whistler and provincial funds through the Olympic Live Sites program. As well, there are various government grants for "Green" building projects that may be available.

VANOC will provide Whistler with $20 million towards the cost of an arena for the Paralympic sledge hockey.