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In Squamish, a stimulus that needs a stimulus

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Build: it's a word repeated ad nauseam in a press release that was issued by the provincial government on March 17, 2009.

The press release, as enthusiastic as a "get-rich-quick" scheme, announced combined provincial and federal funding of $375,000 to build the O'Siem Community Pavilion in Squamish.

The pavilion was meant to revitalize downtown Squamish, but as the press release so glowingly puts it, it also had a bigger purpose: to stimulate the local economy, create more jobs, and build public infrastructure during the time of an economic downturn.

"Our government is moving quickly to provide much needed stimulus during the current economic downturn, creating jobs and building communities. Every job is crucial to communities and especially to the families that depend on them," said MLA Joan McIntyre in the press release.

Families are still dependent on jobs, the recession is still hurting local business and it's been more than a year since those urgent words were uttered, but there's no sign of the O'Siem Community Pavilion.

"Council has not made a decision on its exact location or timing of construction yet," Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said recently. He did not comment on whether the delay was justified or whether the district had other projects to provide the much needed economic stimulus.

CEO Kevin Ramsay offered: "There has been considerable work done in preparation for considering the final design and location."

At the pavilion site there's a cut-out sign that announces the pavilion's arrival in some distant future. The sign, built right in the middle of the pavilion park with statements like "Every Job Counts," almost seems to be mocking those who had hoped the pavilion's timely creation would stimulate the local economy, create much needed jobs and bring people downtown.

One of them is Gregory Fischer, the owner of Gelato Carina and the past president of Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association (DSBIA).

"We need to draw people downtown and this could be a central point for people to meet during special events like Canada Day. If that pavilion was here, you could have more events organized here," Fischer said.

Having a community pavilion built in a timely manner would have created a multiplier effect as its availability would have encouraged more people to organize events, which in turn would have pulled more people downtown, Fischer said.

Wood Industry Consultant Eric Andersen said there are a large number of underemployed people in Squamish and having a building project like this would have created more jobs in the local economy.

"There's local economic benefit to this and we have a lot of underemployed people in this community. This community is hurting and why not have it now when we need it?" he said.

Councillor Patricia Heintzman said she was aware that the pavilion was meant to stimulate the economy and create jobs but the reorganization at the district, different council priorities like the OCP and the departure of the official overseeing the project had put it on the back burner.

She hoped the pavilion will be built by next May. The district might have to quicken that pace, however.

The government of Canada will not provide any funding related to the project if it's not complete by March 2011, said Jen Powroz, a spokesperson for Infrastructure Canada.

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