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Municipality guarantees $2 million of Millennium Place mortgage

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The municipality has guaranteed $2 million of the $3.5 million mortgage the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society is seeking to complete the Maurice Young Millennium Place project.

In a special meeting March 26, Whistler council was told by staff the project was at risk if the municipality didn’t come forward with the guarantee.

Late last month the municipality came up with an emergency loan of $450,000 to the chapel society, so it could pay tradespeople and keep the project moving while the North Shore Credit Union processed the mortgage application. That loan, which was interest free and to be retired in 30 days, will be repaid as soon as the mortgage is approved, which was expected to be by March 30.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society has been raising funds for Millennium Place for the past two years. Over that time the project’s budget has increased and completion dates have been pushed back. The budget for construction is now $7,369,165, up from $7 million a month ago. Also, the mortgage the society is seeking is up $500,000 from what was proposed last month.

Councillor Ken Melamed noted the project’s price tag has gone up since last month’s special meeting. But Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the project has evolved over time and the only real cost overrun was the concrete sills required for the stonework to sit on. In other areas there were cost savings.

To date the Chapel Society has received donations of cash and in-kind services totalling $3,981,000. It has also received commitments for an additional $1,571,000.

With the money raised and the money pledged, the chapel society still needs to raise another $1.8 million. However, because some of the pledged money won’t come in until 2002 or 2003, the approximate cash flow shortfall is $3.3 million. Therefore a mortgage of $3.5 million was sought.

O’Reilly said that up to this point fund-raising has kept ahead of construction costs.

"As the community starts to understand what this building will do for the community we should raise the remaining money quickly," O’Reilly said.

He added that the final $1.8 million in funding should be raised in the next six to 12 months, and the municipality can then be released from its loan guarantee.

As well, because of changes under the Local Government Act, the municipality does not have to put the $2 million in reserves to guarantee the loan. The money will be available for the municipality to use.

However, with the guarantee there is a risk the municipality may be required to provide funds for debt repayment on Millennium Place.

Municipal deputy treasurer Alan McCabe wrote in a report to council: "Clearly, the people of the community and the municipality view the project as an important asset for the future good of the community. It is also clear that completion of the project is at risk unless the municipality provides its support in the form of a guarantee."

The municipality had previously provided grants in aid to cover municipal development cost charges and interim funding totalling $450,000.

O’Reilly said he didn’t think the prolonged period of fund-raising by the Skiers’ Chapel Society would hurt other projects, such as the new library/museum building, which also will require community support.

Maurice Young Millennium Place started as an interfaith chapel but the plans have expanded over the years to become a multi-use community facility. The building, located next to municipal hall on Blackcomb Way, will include a teen centre, day care facilities, workshop and meeting space a concession and perhaps a TicketMaster outlet. The centrepiece of the building will be the Franz Wilhelmsen Hall, which will be used as a place of worship by a number of religious faiths but can also be used for public meetings, films and small scale theatre performances.

As the functions planned for the building have increased so has the price. Nearly four years ago the Whistler Skiers Chapel Society announced $2 million was the fund-raising goal. In 1998 the price tag $5 million. The next year the figure commonly used was $5.6 million. Last fall it was announced the final price tag would be $6.9 million.

Two summers ago the foundation for the building was poured. Construction work began last April and the goal was to have the building open in time for Christmas 2000. The opening date was later changed to March, 2001. It is now expected to open in May.

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