Bed unit request leads to lull in private university negotiations O'Reilly still optimistic school could come to Whistler By Andy Stonehouse Private negotiations aimed at establishing a large private university in Whistler are at a temporary stand-still, largely because the proponents are hoping to score a chunk of bed units to help pay for their plans. That said, Mayor Hugh O'Reilly said he still feels the deal is far from dead, and suggests that with the right tweaking, a school could be established which could serve the needs of both locals and visiting students. Throughout the year, O'Reilly has been in talks with several parties interested in establishing a private international university in the community, including former UBC president David Strangway. O'Reilly said the general plans call for a year-round facility with as many as 800 students, about half of which could be Canadians. He admits the concept is still very fluid, with no formal application for the project being made. And while the institution could bring some well-needed community education facilities to Whistler, O'Reilly and local councillors weren't immediately willing to give the proponents the financial incentives they requested. "I think they were hoping for a quick answer, but Whistler doesn't do anything that simply," O'Reilly said. "They have a lot of capital up-front costs, and when we talked around it, it became a question of what do we have to give." O'Reilly said that the proponents have requested special zoning and space to provide for students and staff. "An entity like that would have to be supported, but how much? How do we get them to give more in creative ways, but still get Whistler access to education? We're still working with it — we would never turn around an opportunity like this." Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the issue seemed more clear cut to her: Whistler is not willing to simply hand over its money-making bed units in order to strike a deal to create what will essentially remain a private school. "The idea of economic diversity through education is a no-brainer, and in theory, it sounds appealing, but there was a request from the builders for a significant number of bed units," she said. "If they can get off the idea of bed units being used to finance the project, it could work, but the community benefit has to be very significant to donate thousands of units." Wilhelm-Morden said the university's backers were keen on establishing a market development to cover the costs of setting up the school. Their request for land for a campus location also creates possible conflicts. "We're not even sure where it would go. Land is at a premium here, and the community still needs it for community needs, like an elementary school. Other communities could give them that zoning, and they probably thought that's the response they'd get here." Those behind the project told local officials they would require between 40 and 80 acres to build the university, which leaves only a few possible sites available in the valley. The old Rainbow site between Alpine and Emerald has been discussed, as well as new properties to be cleared as part of Intrawest's neighbourhood developments south of Bayshores and Millar's Pond. BC Rail also holds a large parcel of land on the west side of Alta Lake it wants to sell or develop. O'Reilly said he remains optimistic that the university concept could still go ahead, and said he sees a variety of spin-off benefits for locals. He suggests the school could be an important source of training to locals, with seminars, hospitality courses, business management and accounting classes. It could also provide university credit courses. "I personally think that even the year-round students would help grow the community side of the operation. Unfortunately, at this point, there are more questions than answers." O'Reilly said the proponents will now spend some more time on their plans and have told him they want to bring a more formal presentation to the community, perhaps later in the year.