Sometime this month Whistlerites will get details, including perhaps some numbers, regarding the Paralympic arena and why all signs are pointing to it being built in Squamish. Although the final decision will not be made until after Labour Day, indications are Whistler will still receive a significant chunk of the $20 million VANOC is offering toward construction of the Paralympic facility, and that money will go toward building another ice sheet at Meadow Park and an enhanced athletes centre next to the athletes village on the Cheakamus River.
During the debate on the arena one of the arguments put forward, primarily by village business owners, is that the village needs to be revitalized and brought back to life. Too many people, including residents, are avoiding the village and shopping elsewhere. Consequently, businesses are hurting. The arena, some of these people argue, could be the catalyst, or a part of the catalyst, to bring people back to the village.
But it doesnt look likely the Paralympic arena will be built in Whistler Village. When all the negotiations are concluded and the numbers can be released, perhaps it will become obvious that Whistler cant afford the facility in the village.
And what then?
The issues of businesses struggling and revitalizing the village remain. While the arena debate has carried on for several weeks the business issue is only starting to be addressed. Last week a Tourism Whistler meeting called with less than a weeks notice to discuss business in the resort drew approximately 100 people. As Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher commented, "Crisis does bring people together."
As was discussed at last weeks meeting, there are all kinds of external factors that have affected tourism in recent years, and most people are pretty familiar with them: SARS, the Iraq war, 9/11, the economy, airlines failing. But what about the things Whistler can control; things like the village?
In the beginning
Long before there was a Whistler Village there was a plan to create a central focal point for the Whistler valley. In a 1974 report for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs planning services department author James Gilmour wrote: "Considerable planning discussion in the recent past has revolved around the question of a single centred versus a multi-centred community. This plan strongly recommends the single centred concept over the multi-centred one for a variety of reasons."
Development of Whistler Village was carefully orchestrated, with the Blackcomb Professional Building, The Grocery Store, liquor store, Tapleys Pub, a drug store, hardware store and restaurants included in the first parcels to be developed around Village Square. The idea was that this mix of essential services and social gathering places would bring residents, weekenders and destination visitors together in the core of the village.