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Public volleys back-and-forth on tennis proposal

Third reading of Holborn redevelopment will be scheduled soon



How popular is tennis and how profitable will the tennis facility on the Holborn property be?

Those were some of the issues raised during Monday night’s public hearing for Holborn’s redevelopment of the Whistler Racquet Club. While the phased real estate end of the project — including the seniors housing — has been discussed extensively, the evening saw most presentations about the tennis facilities punctuated by rounds of applause from a pro-tennis audience.

But there were also some questions about the municipality taking ownership of the tennis facility when it is completed.

“The municipality supplies courts in most neighbourhoods, but it’s something of a new direction for me as a resident of Whistler that a municipality would get involved in the tennis business,” said community member Brian Buchholz.

“Do you have an understanding of what the operational costs and maintenance costs of that facility will be in six years when we take it over?”

The proposed real estate development will use 176 fewer bed units than was originally anticipated. Those bed units will go to the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations for their real estate developments in Whistler.

However, Stewart Munro suggested that 10 per cent of First Nations’ sales revenue from the bed units be used to help pay for operational costs of the new tennis facility and to promote tennis throughout the corridor.

Bob Macpherson, the municipality’s general manager of community life, suggested the tennis facility would be a viable business and that the municipality already plays a significant role in operating resort components like parks and trails.

“We have talked to people who do run private facilities,” said Macpherson. “I think the intent of staff is to go through and see if there is someone out there with experience running facilities who would want to run this facility without being encumbered by capital costs, but there is more business planning that needs to be done.”

Mayor Ken Melamed later said council feels it has already addressed the concern of the municipality eventually running the tennis facility.

“Those concerns were raised early on in the process, and clearly council felt that they had been addressed,” said Melamed.

“When we heard presentations from both sides, both a concern for the risk and an expression from members of the tennis facility, it is fair to say it influenced council’s shaping of the project to this point in the belief that there was a positive financial model.”

He added that the reason the municipality first decided to take over the tennis courts was because the community stressed a strong desire to have the facility, but Holborn is not a tennis operator.

Part of the agreement is that Holborn will build a facility with indoor and outdoor tennis courts within six years, and a seniors housing complex within eight years. Representatives for both the Mature Action Committee (MAC) and the Whistler Tennis Club also spoke Monday night of those groups’ enthusiasm for the project.

Kirk Patterson, coach for kids at the Whistler Racquet Club, also spoke to the current demand for tennis in the corridor.

“I just want to make the point that tennis is a little bigger than you think in this area,” he said. “Every single kid in Whistler does the tennis program, and there are probably a lot more people using the place than you realize in terms of visitors and locals.”

He added that the tennis community is making an effort to dissolve tennis’s perception as “elitist” by encouraging locals and visitors to play on the courts together.

Patterson said a Sea to Sky Tennis Association will be launched on May 24, raising the profile of the sport throughout the corridor.

Ryan Clark, chief executive officer of Tennis B.C., also journeyed up from Vancouver Monday night to speak of the opportunity to bring national and international tournaments to the courts.

Third reading of bylaws for the Holborn project will come forward at a future council meeting. Redevelopment of the Holborn property will not take place until after the 2010 Olympics.

Several people, however, spoke Monday night of the dismal state of the current tennis courts.

“I have been playing on that facility for seven years,” said Robin Brown.

“Since Holborn has had it, it has been kept in a rather poor state of affairs,” she said, adding that she is glad to hear that the development group is dedicating $40,000 towards remedial costs. Holborn has also hired a consultant to do maintenance work on the courts, and a list of what work needs to be done has been compiled.