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No funding yet for $20 million ice rink roof

Province in internal discussions on similar Robson Square project

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There’s no money as of yet for the $20 million ice rink roof for Whistler’s Celebration Plaza, but the project isn’t dead.

That’s the message from Councillor Bob Lorriman, even though the soft deadline for funding has passed.

“It’s one of those things where everybody always seems to wait until the 11 th hour,” said Lorriman, who is on the task force charged with moving the project along.

“It’s no different that the athletes’ village. We went beyond the 11 th hour in the athletes’ village.”

Lorriman is referring to the critical promise of funding Whistler secured from the province before the $131 million Olympic village project could move ahead.

Likewise, Whistler is looking for provincial funding, as well as federal and private funding, for the “iconic” roof structure over a proposed ice rink on Celebration Plaza in time for the 2010 Games. The unique structure, designed by architects Bing Thom and Associates, is meant to showcase B.C. wood products and craftsmanship.

The mid-February deadline to raise the $20 million has technically passed but Lorriman remains hopeful that the money will come in within the next month.

“I think everybody recognizes this will be an iconic image people will remember after the Olympics,” said Lorriman. “I think a lot of people understand the importance of doing that. It all comes down to money.”

And timing.

As Whistler hurries to bend the ears and open the pocketbooks in the private and public sector, the provincial government has plans of its own for a unique wooden roof structure over a new ice rink in Robson Square.

Minister Colin Hansen, in charge of economic development, the Asia-Pacific Initiative, and the Olympics, was not available for comment this week.

The province has been tight-lipped on their Robson “clam” project ever since it was leaked to newspapers in the Lower Mainland.

The conceptual drawings are before government and remain in a state of internal discussions. Public consultation will take place before any final decisions are made.

There is no connection to the roof planned for Robson Square and the one planned for the Celebration Plaza in Whistler.

That’s reassuring, said Lorriman, who was concerned that Vancouver’s plans could jeopardize Whistler’s chances for funding.

“That’s actually very positive,” he said of the news that the two projects are not connected. “I’m glad to hear that.”

The province would not confirm any numbers but according to a report in the Vancouver Sun the province’s plans include the $42 million roof, a $23 million Asia-Pacific centre, and more than $20 million to revamp and revitalize Robson Square.

Whistler’s project is part of a massive multi-million overhaul of Lot 1/9 which will be turned into Celebration Plaza in time for the 2010 Games.

The roof/ice rink will not happen before the Games if Whistler cannot find full funding for the project soon.

“Unless we get full funding this isn’t going to move forward,” reiterated Lorriman.

“What we have to keep in our gun sights is the fact that there’s going to be an ongoing cost to that.”

He said municipal staff have done a preliminary investigation of the cost to maintain the structure.

“Personally I’m comfortable that if we could get the full capital amount that the ongoing costs are certainly workable without taxpayer contributions.”

He is not ruling out the possibility that funding would be needed from the hotel tax.

“But it clearly falls within that hotel tax structure — it is a tourist amenity and I think it’s one more reason for people to come to Whistler for their holidays.”

Staff is expected to bring forward a report to council on the roof/rink at the second meeting in March, scheduled for Monday, Mar. 17.

In the meantime, talks are continuing with key players.

Lorriman said they have support from some of the interior communities in the province as well as the B.C. Wood Council.

“There are a couple of meetings that we’re hoping to put together that will probably make or break the thing,” he added.

“It’s not dead yet.”

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