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Lil'wat Nation eyeing Function for mixed-use development, gas station

Long-awaited project could include six-pump station, offices and convenience store

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The Lil'wat First Nation has its sights set on Function Junction for a new development that, if approved, would include a gas station, restaurant, and mixed industrial and office space.

Lil'wat's director of business and economic development Kerry Mehaffey confirmed this week that preparations are underway to submit a formal development permit application to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) for a property the Nation owns near the entrance to Function Junction.

Initial plans include approximately 7,060 total square metres consisting of a mix of light industrial, mezzanine and office space over three buildings, as well as a six-pump gas station and convenience store with restaurant space.

"This development will integrate with the surrounding neighbourhood and will be screened from the highway by an existing 20-m vegetation buffer. The Light Industrial portion of the site will offer a mix of space for offices, warehouses, retail, manufacturing, etc., as well as ample parking," Mehaffey outlined in an email. "Our hope is that these units will be occupied by a variety of existing businesses looking to expand, as well as new businesses looking to make their mark on Whistler."

Mehaffey said the development would also enhance the pedestrian connection in front of the property, "connecting the heart of Function to the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood with a paved Valley Trail."

The 2.15-hectare property was one of eight plots of land the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations received as part of the Olympic Legacy Land Agreement in exchange for agreeing to host the 2010 Olympics on their traditional territories. The Squamish Nation sold its 50-per-cent stake in the property to the Lil'wat in 2010.

The initial hope was that the development would be completed in time for the Games, and in 2008 Whistler council greenlit an earlier proposal. Since then, a handful of different developers have been attached to the project, and continual delays, stemming primarily from market conditions and the Lil'wat's financial position, have kept it from going ahead, according to Mehaffey.

"We are now in the position where we can consider developing this project ourselves based on increased access to capital through our Financial Administration Law and access to the First Nations Finance Authority, or take on a partner," he added. Michael Hutchison's Cornerstone Developments has been tapped to administer the development application. Hutchison's Bethel Lands Corporation is the principal behind several high-profile projects in the corridor, including the Sea to Sky Gondola and the incoming Squamish Oceanfront Development.

Most importantly, Mehaffey said the project would forge "another connection" between the Lil'wat and Whistler, creating long-term employment opportunities for Nation members and an added revenue stream to help fund core programs and services in Mount Currie.

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