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Paralympic arena decision sparks community debate

Variety of opinions expressed at second open house



There is no consensus in Whistler about the 2,750-seat Paralympic arena.

That much was evident at the second public open house on the issue in less than two months, held last Thursday at the Spruce Grove Field House.

Some want council to take the $20 million from the Vancouver Organizing Committee and build the "out of the box" model in the heart of the village proposed by members of the local business community.

Others want council to turn down the arena and take the $2 million from VANOC that comes with no strings attached.

And then there are still more who want a compromise – an arena located at Meadow Park.

That won’t make council’s job any easier Monday when it comes time to make the $20 million decision.

Craig Hill, a coach for the national snowboard team, was at Thursday’s open house reading through a number of panels which outlined the various options and highlighted the preliminary cost of three arena designs.

"… After reading all this stuff, I understand it a lot of better but I’m not sure if it makes it any easier to make up my mind," he said.

More than 120 people turned out last week to learn more about the latest arena figures, ranging from $27 million to $33 million as prepared by municipal staff.

With VANOC kicking in $20 million, Whistler is on the line to come up with the balance, should they choose to build an arena.

That’s not an option Paul Mathews, president of Ecosign, supports.

"The big hook is ‘here’s $20 million,’" he said.

While that sounds appealing, Mathews said it’s the local taxpayer that will end up paying for the facility in the long run. His work as a resort planner has taken him to Olympic host cities around the world. What he has found is that so-called "legacy" arenas do not generate enough revenues to pay for themselves.

"They (Whistler council) need to name one facility in the world of this nature that works and I might come off my high horse," said Mathews. "Just name one facility that works somewhere in the world. Because I can name 10 that don’t – that’s where I’m coming from."

Mathews is concerned local taxes will increase to pay for the arena "legacy."

Figures presented at the open house showed how much taxes would increase if they municipality borrowed $10 million. An average business worth $750,000 would pay a $143 increase while a residential home worth $1.1 million would pay an additional $59.