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High demand, low supply in Whistler's commercial real estate market

Chamber releases 2016 Commercial Lease Report



A year after the Whistler Chamber of Commerce released its first Commercial Lease Report — a document containing the price ranges of various retail locations throughout Whistler designed to help potential business owners negotiate lease rates with landlords — and not much has changed.

As in the 2015 report, space in Function Junction comes relatively cheap, at $15 to $17 per square foot, whereas prime real estate like that found in the Village Square nets between $95 and $125 per square foot.

The only change from 2015 was a slight drop for space in Marketplace — from $50 to $63 per square foot in 2015 to $45 to $63 in 2016.

But the static numbers shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as in any given year there may only be a few leases coming up for renewal, said Pat Kelly of the Whistler Real Estate Company, which prepares the report for the Chamber.

"Any appreciation is going to be slow. You won't really see it over a one-year period. You tend to see it over a two-to-three-year period as leases are renewed," Kelly said.

But as the recently updated Economic Partnership Initiative report showed, business is booming in Whistler.

"Right now there's lots of people around, the shops are busy, there's lots of demand. If you've got an idea or a product that works, I'm sure you're happy with the situation you're in," Kelly said.

"We continue to be challenged by a lack of supply, and that's not going to go away anytime soon. In fact, it's probably never going to go away."

There are some bigger spaces that have been sitting empty for some time — like the old 7-Eleven location on Main Street — but it's harder to turn a profit in a space like that, Kelly said.

"Part of the character of retailing in Whistler is the smaller, more intimate stores, right? The big stores, between staff and overhead you've got to do some big volume numbers to justify it," he said.

Having a lack of supply for interested retailers is nothing new, and with the way Whistler's economy has been trending it's not surprising, said Chamber CEO Val Litwin.

"We've got increased visitation, and the tourism economy is going great not just in B.C. but in Canada, so I think the demand is high for those locations, and the supply is low," Litwin said.

"We're always going to have that challenge in a smaller community like this where we do have a cap... we're looking at a very stabilized footprint."

Going into business anywhere involves some risk, but the Commercial Lease Report is intended to help landlords and tenants create more "win-wins" Litwin added.

"At the end of the day the market is still the market. This tool is not going to help someone beat the market, but it will help them think about some of those little variable pieces that may make all the difference in the end," he said.

"It's also giving you insights into all those levers that could also influence the success, not only in the negotiation, but in your tenure in that space."

Factors affecting lease rates include location, visibility, size and parking.

The full report can be found on the Chamber's website: