Intrawest has abandoned plans to build a 22-unit upscale townhouse complex at Base II as well as participate in development of the 2010 athletes’ village.
“In the end the economics… just didn’t work for us,” said John Morley, Intrawest’s vice president of development for B.C.
“We’ve abandoned the entire initiative.”
It is a disappointing outcome for a deal that was several months in the making, both on the part of Intrawest which wanted to utilize some of its last remaining bed units, or development rights, in Whistler, and the municipality, which was hoping to get some help building the $131 million athletes’ village project.
“Were we disappointed that they didn’t want to get involved in the athletes’ village?” said Mayor Ken Melamed. “Yes. Is it critical to the relationship? No. Because it became a financial risk management issue for them on behalf of the relationship.”
Intrawest Placemaking submitted its Base II rezoning application to the municipality in the spring. It was hoping to build 22 high-end townhomes in the corner of Lot 6, underneath the Blackcomb gondola.
At the time it was believed the company still owed employee housing units at its Cedar Glen site in Spring Creek dating back several years.
At a June meeting council recognized additional bed units for Intrawest, bringing the company’s official total bed unit tally from 64 to 146 units, or enough to build 36 townhouses. These units are not connected to any particular site and could have been used at Base II.
But one caveat to that decision, which passed in a 4 to 3 vote, was council required Intrawest to participate in the athletes’ village, building a node of housing that would revert to employee housing after the 2010 Games, and resolve its outstanding employee housing project at Cedar Glen.
Mayor Melamed explained that subsequent investigation revealed Intrawest had no outstanding commitments to provide more employee housing. All of its outstanding housing units were met with the Bear Ridge project.
“What changed in the process was that originally we understood they had a commitment to build housing in the Cedar Glen site and they don’t,” said the mayor. “So then it became a question of financial benefit and risk to them and it’s their choice to make that investment or not.”
Morley explained that the development at Base II was small in scale, making it difficult to support anything substantial at the athletes’ village. Upon their review of the numbers, the company pulled back from the deal.
“It was not going to be a break even situation,” said Morley of their participation.
The municipality was hoping to entice Intrawest as a partner in its athletes’ village development. Already the Whistler Housing Authority and Hostelling International have agreed to build two separate buildings at the village.
The Whistler 2020 Development Corp. — the municipally-owned subsidiary charged with building the development — is also talking to the developers of the Nita Lake Lodge as a potential partner at the athletes’ village.
“We are still in discussions with them,” confirmed Neil Godfrey, 2020 Development Corp. project manager.
The Nita Lake Lodge developers have some outstanding employee housing as part of their overall hotel/housing project.
Godfrey explained that for the Development Corp., the athletes’ village is a “break even proposition”, whereby it will build the village and sell the housing to employees for occupancy after 2010 essentially at cost. The company has been given a $35 million boost from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games to subsidize the development. The land was provided by the province.
As for Intrawest and its last remaining development rights, Morley said they are reviewing their options. This, however, may not be the time to build in Whistler, as the construction market remains hot due in part to 2010 deadlines.
It is not clear how the Intrawest bed units may be utilized now that council has tied their use to participation in the athletes’ village.