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The story line is a bit like a James Bond movie. It started almost 12 months ago in Oberstdorf, Germany, wound through Sierra Nevada, Spain, Calgary, Quebec City, Switzerland, Christchurch, New Zealand, the Hong Kong Bank of Canada and finally back to Whistler, where council voted 4-1 Monday to guarantee a bank loan that will enable Whistler to become a permanent stop on the World Cup circuit. The vote will bring the world back to Whistler this December, and for nine Decembers after that, for men’s World Cup downhill and super G races. But even when it got to Whistler it wasn’t an easy decision, with council deliberating more than an hour before voting on the motion to guarantee the $3 million, interest-free loan the Hong Kong Bank of Canada has agreed to provide to fund the snowmaking system required for a December race. The loan is to be paid back over five years. The W5 group — the Whistler Resort Association, Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Vancouver Ski Foundation — intends to pay back the loan by selling the 30 per cent of race marketing rights it has negotiated. Halva, a Swiss company, has 70 per cent of the marketing rights to the races, which it bought from Alpine Canada, the Calgary-based governing body of alpine ski racing. The W5 group also has plans for a large lottery as part of the season-opening festival surrounding the World Cup race. If the marketing rights don’t bring in $3 million over five years the W5 group feels the lottery will generate enough funds to pay off the loan. Despite these plans, the Hong Kong Bank of Canada still required a $1.5 million guarantee. Council agreed Monday to offer its portion of the hotel tax as a guarantee, but not without considerable debate. Councillor Thelma Johnstone, while supporting the W5 group and the World Cup, was opposed to using the hotel tax to guarantee a loan. "The line between borrowing and guaranteeing is to me a fine line," Johnstone said, noting the municipality has had a policy of not borrowing to pay for capital projects. "I think as elected members, based on the policies we have, we don’t have the right to risk municipal revenues. I think it would be better if we helped the W5 find another means of financing." Johnstone said the hotel tax revenue has been built into the municipality’s capital review to buildout and suggested if council was going to change its policy it should be after an overall discussion, rather than making a decision on one event. The money is included in the municipality’s 20-year capital plan to buildout but it is based on conservative estimates of room nights. The municipality took in $340,000 beyond what it had budgeted for the 1995 hotel tax. A decision from council was needed this week because installation of the snowmaking system is already behind schedule. The W5 group has been working on Whistler Mountain to prepare for the installation but wasn’t able to order the snowmaking equipment until the loan was guaranteed. The urgency of the decision was noted by several councillors. "The W5 group is two months behind (schedule), we either go or we don’t," said Councillor Hugh O’Reilly. O’Reilly said his decision "comes from the gut" but added if there is any event worth supporting on gut instinct it’s the World Cup. "The opportunity is before us, I think we should take it." Councillor Kristi Wells, while voting in favour of the municipality guaranteeing the loan, asked why the Whistler Resort Association wasn’t more involved financially. No one from the WRA attended the meeting, although a letter supporting the municipality’s decision to use the hotel tax to guarantee the loan was sent to council by WRA President David Thomson. David Perry of Whistler Mountain tried to paraphrase the WRA’s position for Wells by noting the ultimate goal of the W5 group is to build a festival around the World Cup races which will generate revenues for community projects. That being the goal it would seem the final responsibility should rest with the municipality. The loan guarantee was the final piece in the puzzle to make Whistler an annual stop on the World Cup circuit. Alpine Canada has given the W5 group a 10 year commitment in writing. FIS has put Whistler on its race calendar for the next two years (which is as far in advance as it schedules races) but has made a "long-term" commitment to Whistler in writing. Halva has guaranteed Whistler $350,000 per race to put the races on and the Hong Kong Bank of Canada has now provided the loan to buy the snowmaking equipment and other infrastructure needed to put the races on in December.

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