Creekside is getting a facelift, but some are wondering whether Whistler's original ski village would be better off with a full-on makeover.
CNL Lifestyle Properties, the Florida-based company with an 80-per-cent stake in the property, announced plans last week it hopes will transform Creekside Village into a "must visit" location.
"(CNL) thought there wasn't enough imagination to create attraction for consumers with their current tenant lineup, so they made the conscious decision for some of those operations not to renew their leases," said Greenstead Consulting Group founder Peter Morris, who was commissioned to carry out the repositioning plan.
The idea is to bring in "unique" and/or "quintessentially Canadian" commercial tenants that will distinguish Creekside from the village.
"When I'm in Whistler Village, I can find Lululemon, The Gap, Earls — I find all of these things that I can also find in Vancouver, or in Seattle, or some of them, anywhere in the world," Morris said. " We want to create something totally unique and uniquely Canadian."
According to Morris, the preferred tenant mix would include retailers such as a signature restaurant, a salon/spa, a unique art gallery and a craft brew pub, wine bar or speak-easy.
Finding the right balance of commercial tenants will be key to Creekside's success, said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin.
"Quite often you need to hit a critical mass for a destination retail concept to work," he said. "You have some terrific businesses down there and some great anchor tenants... but until you reach that tipping point with those interstitial businesses that knit the whole experience together, you can stay in that limbo zone where it doesn't catch."
Drawing guests to Creekside has been a challenge for businesses for years, with the current vacancy rate at 13 per cent, and was addressed in a 2012 report commissioned by the municipality that stated plainly that "new visions for the Creekside area" were needed.
And while he commended the real estate investment trust for taking a step towards reimagining Creekside, Whistler Real Estate Company CEO Pat Kelly questioned whether CNL's plan to add a handful of unique tenants will be enough to revitalize the area.
"It won't be enough," said WREC owner and CEO Pat Kelly. "They can reposition their 13 or 14 stores or whatever they've got there and try to make it a more attractive little area, but I don't think it's enough to draw significant numbers of people down there."
Kelly is calling for a more holistic strategy that takes into account the entire Creekside subdivision, not just the commercial area. But with a cap on development included in Whistler's Official Community Plan (OCP), taking such an overarching approach could be a challenge, according to Kelly.
"Wisdom would suggest that this is something that shouldn't be approached in a piecemeal basis," he said. "Let's take the (61,750 bed unit cap) in the OCP and forget it exists and then envision what Creekside could be without the policy restrictions."
One move that's sure to be a boon for the area is Whistler Blackcomb's recent decision to open the Creekside Gondola to mountain bike traffic beginning Aug. 7. (See related story on page 50.)
"We've been waiting on that for years and I'm glad to hear it's finally going to take place," said Creekside Market owner Jerry Marsh, who added that the opening is sure to drive traffic to the area's restaurants, which have long been a beleaguered sector of Creekside.
But with a new slew of one-of-a-kind retailers, is there any worry that Creekside will only serve to draw business away from the commercial centre of the village?
Morris doesn't think so.
"If we have the opportunity with the owner to bring in all these types of other uses, then there will be a complimentary back and forth (between Creekside and the village)," he said. "You might find that people are staying longer (in the resort), which is good for everybody."
With the lion's share of accommodation and retail in the village, Morris said getting a steady stream of visitors to make the trek south down Highway 99 could pose a challenge, and suggested the municipality offer a free shuttle service to Creekside as it does to the Upper Village.