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Whistler takes $20 million, will build arena

Community referendum will be held if council borrows money for Paralympic facility



Council has unanimously voted in favour of taking the $20 million from the Vancouver Organizing Committee and finding a way to build the Paralympic arena in the village.

One caveat, however, is that if they cannot build it without borrowing millions of dollars, the issue will go to the community to decide in a referendum.

This decision is an about-face from an earlier municipal staff recommendation not to take to the $20 million. Two months ago staff recommended council take $8 million from VANOC and forgo building an arena for the Games.

Monday’s decision marks the end of months of negotiations and deadline extensions and leaves VANOC spokesperson Maureen Douglas feeling very pleased.

"It gives all of us a place to actually move forward with now," said Douglas, who was at Monday’s meeting. "And we’re thrilled with the ability to keep the Paralympic Games in a compact site like was always envisioned."

Work will now begin on fleshing out the two arena concepts – one proposed by the local business community, the other by Whistler’s master planner Eldon Beck – and figuring out just how much an arena capable of hosting the Paralympic sledge hockey events will cost Whistler.

A development manager will be hired for the task.

The unanimous decision by the six councillors (Mayor Hugh O’Reilly was absent) is a shift for the majority of council, most of whom were not originally in support of taking the $20 million for a village arena. Though they were all in agreement Monday night, they spent most of the discussion debating the wording of the motion.

"I think in some ways it was an easy decision made hard," said Acting Mayor Gord McKeever upon reflection of the evening’s discussion.

The following day Councillor Kristi Wells wanted to focus on the positive outcome of the decision rather than the confusing debate itself.

"We haven’t been able to be unanimous about a lot of things this term. So I’m going to hold on to the outcome," she said.

Wells has always advocated taking the $20 million and building the arena on Lot 1/9 in the village. Not so the rest of her colleagues.

One factor which changed their opinion in recent months was the outpouring of support from the community to take the $20 million and build a facility in the village. More than 60 per cent of people at two recent open houses were of that opinion. The first open house drew almost 300 people.

"What made me change my mind is that the community really wanted it," Councillor Marianne Wade said after the meeting.