By Clare Ogilvie
Whistler’s late ’70s meandering street design with attractive and animated ground floor storefronts and condos above is now the wave of the future when it comes to developing shopping centres.
The idea of building mixed use shopping malls with residential, amenities, retail, office space and more is quickly becoming the norm across the country and around the world.
And while Whistler’s plan, put in place by designer Eldon Beck, has kept the highrise side of it to a minimum it seems in many ways to be the blueprint for success.
This week close to 2,000 developers, architects, retailers, financial gurus, analysts, lawyers, consultants, management companies and technology representatives came to Whistler to take part in the annual International Council of Shopping Centres conference, where they heard all about the growth, success and challenges of mixed use development.
“(Whistler) is a very early picture of having that animation at the street level….” said Vancouver’s Bob Rennie, owner of Rennie Marketing Systems and a panelist at the conference on mixed-use development.
But Whistler does differ in one very important aspect, said Drew Meredith, who was also a presenter at the conference, there are many different landlords in the resort rather than just one overseeing the whole centre.
And the municipality itself is also responsible for the upkeep of much of the village.
“I do think we need more shine on the apple,” Meredith told delegates Monday in explaining why he thinks the town will see more municipal money spent on refurbishing the village in the coming years.
He noted that there has been significant turnover in the retail sector in the village in recent years, adding that vacancy stands at about 5 per cent currently.
The turnover may be partly explained by the fact that retail space has gone up by 12 per cent since 2000, while the number of retailers has declined.
“Our costs have also gone up through the roof so margins were squeezed so badly that we have seen quite a significant turnover in the village, which quite frankly, was highly over due,” said Meredith, adding that the hosting of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games is also likely to shake the resort.
There is no doubt that the advent of the Games is creating a buzz amongst retailers.
In June a unique and premiere Nike store will open in the Mountain Square space vacated last year by Spirit of the North. And while owner/operator Marshall Myles said the Olympics aren’t the only reason he wanted to open this landmark store, it was part of the equation.