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Whistler Sports Academy founders takes over racquet club

Business owners hope to return the site to 'social hub' status

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A new era is being ushered in at the Whistler Racket Club (formerly the Whistler Racquet Club).

As of Jan. 2, Whistler Sports Academy founders Jamie Grant and Olly Nixon took over the building's lease, and he has grand plans to restore the site with new programming.

After the Wild Wood Cafe moved out in 2015, Grant said he regularly offered to utilize the space, and started to gain traction once Beedie bought the property from Holborn Group in 2017.

"We're going to bring that social-hub feel back to this place so it becomes a fun place to hang out, even if you don't play tennis," he said.

Grant has recently had success launching The Hangar, an event space in Function Junction, which has hosted everything from parties and the Heavy Hitting Horrorfest to intramural-style sports nights and roller disco.

He's hoping to help diversify the site's offerings, with plans to launch a small cafe in the coming weeks with an eye towards offering full-service food and beverage later this year.

Once the food service gets underway, with May targeted for a grand re-opening, contingent on the permits and licenses being approved, Grant said the club will welcome live music nights and host events ranging from wine tastings and dance performances to yoga and pilates classes.

Partnering with Grant is former CFL All-Star Shea Emry, who now runs Axewood Events Co., which offers axe-throwing among other outdoor attractions.

"He builds snowball-fight stadiums and fire pits with hot-chocolate stands," Grant said, noting an outdoor adventure zone is set to open on the outdoor courts later this month. "Kids are going to love that. It's going to be great for corporate groups, great for parties. We're bringing a whole new element to the club, more than just tennis and pickleball."

In terms of tennis programming, Grant said the centre is operating in a business-as-usual fashion, offering clinics, lessons and leagues. He hopes to add more tournaments and round-robin play to the event roster as part of the overall goal of expanding the club's social offerings.

As for the site itself, Beedie and the new partnership have made renovations including to the tennis bubble to stop leaks, while in the lobby and restaurant area, the old carpet has been removed and replaced with hardwood flooring. Ultimately, Grant's goal is to create a chalet-type atmosphere, as he has plans to bring in antique tables and chairs and make repairs to the fireplace.

In the spring, meanwhile, several outdoor courts are slated for resurfacing, which the Whistler Tennis Association has previously said is long overdue.

Beedie executive vice president Houtan Rafii said the company was familiar with Grant after leasing some of its land to the Whistler Sports Academy for summer camps.

"They've been a really good operator. Their business is thriving," Rafii said. "I know they have experience running tennis clubs as well so they have some great ideas for expanding the offerings at the tennis club, both on the tennis side and non-tennis.

"Having worked with them in the past successfully and having seen how professional, proactive and organized they were, we thought it would be a good fit for the tennis club."

Grant was a longtime tennis pro in Whistler before leaving to start the Whistler Sports Academy and its Kids Combo Camps roughly a decade ago. With the academy, Grant kept the connection with the tennis club alive as one of its camp venues.

Grant praised the Whistler Tennis Association and Whistler Racquet Club manager and director of tennis Kirk Paterson for their work navigating some challenging times.

"They've worked really hard to keep this facility going and keep tennis alive," he said.

The centre will host an open house this Friday, Jan. 17 from 3 to 10 p.m. Until 6 p.m., the focus will be on family friendly activities such as mini tennis, snow sculptures and snowball target contests, while the evening will turn into more of a cocktail party and mixer the rest of the evening. Grant said there will be literature regarding his vision for the site for attendees to pick up at the event.

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