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Phoenix foundering

Supplier SG Blocks’ financing woes threaten to kill temporary housing project

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Once heralded as a community success story, the Phoenix project — temporary housing for 308 Whistler employees from this winter through the 2010 Olympics — is stalled and may be cancelled.

The American company supplying the converted shipping containers for the temporary housing complex has not secured a sufficient loan from a Canadian bank to finance the project and is currently short about $3 million.

Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and backbone of the Phoenix project, said SG Blocks needs to find an alternative finance plan by the end of the week if occupancy is to begin Nov. 1 as planned.

She added if a solution is not found by Tuesday, the program may be abandoned altogether.

“We learned about it probably 10 days ago, and so we have been doing everything we can — working with resort partners, and some of the bigger employers — to see if there are any contacts that we could send their (SG Blocks’) way to try and assist them to get them through this,” said a sombre Lundy.

“There are a bunch of different possibilities, but we are going to need a firm commitment quickly.”

Bruce Russell, managing partner of SG Blocks, said his St. Louis-based company planned to borrow at least 70 per cent of the project’s costs from a major Canadian bank. The bank has since said they will only loan 50 per cent.

“We kind of got caught and we can’t manoeuvre them (the banks) out of it,” said Russell.

“Even offering them X, Y and Z would not make a difference, because their criteria are criteria… As they got a clearer picture, they kept getting tighter and tighter, and this is where we find ourselves.”

Russell added his company had not assumed Canadian banks would be so “conservative”.

In mid-August, SG Blocks alerted the Phoenix board about their financial trouble, and the board immediately approached Whistler-Blackcomb to see if they could offer any solutions.

Whistler-Blackcomb had a financial analyst sit down with SG Blocks to pinpoint exactly how much the $5 million project was short.

Joel Chevalier, Whistler-Blackcomb’s director of employee experience, said it was then that the $3 million shortfall was identified.

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