In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer). Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982. Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.
Some context for this week’s question: On November 6, 1982, the Whistler Ratepayers Association sponsored an All Candidates Meeting for the municipal election. At the meeting, one topic that was not discussed was the Whistler Village Land Company, which had had a difficult year.
Question: What did you learn from the All Candidates Meeting?
Drew Meredith – Real Estate Sales – Alta Vista
For all the bad press Whistler has received lately about all the horrible things that are wrong it surprises me that no issues were addressed. It was the most boring meeting I have ever attended.
Dave Buchan – Real Estate Sales – Mons
I had the distinct feeling that the meeting was censored. The lack of discussion on the land company was noticeable as it is a major issue. I wonder if it would be possible for the mayor to reveal the reasons for this.
Ted Nebbeling – Businessman – Alta Vista
Nothing was said to change my mind about who I’d vote for. There have been rumours that the meeting was censored regarding land company issues but I wanted to hear about the future of Whistler in other areas. All we ever hear about at every other meeting is the land company.
In the late 1980s, the 58 acre Village North site was owned by the province and zoning was controlled by the RMOW. Whereas the original Village development had been mainly visitor driven, Village North was envisioned as supporting the community and bringing residents and visitors together. Community workshops were held through 1988 to determine what residents wanted to see in Village North before any rezoning was planned. According to then-Director of Planning Mike Vance, one ideas was to locate facilities such as the post office, medical centre, municipal hall, library, and museum in this area. At a speaker event in 2019, landscape architect Eldon Beck described his vision for such a plan: “This was intended to gradually involve the community in shopping, recreation, coming down to the town hall, coming to the library. So it’s a sequence of community interest activities merging then with the tourism population coming the other way, so the Northlands is where these communities all come together.”
The next step, after deciding on this plan, was to divide the entire site into parcels and zone each parcel in accordance with a master plan. Together, the RMOW, Beck, and Whistler Land Company Developments (WLC) developed a master plan even more detailed than that created for the first Village site, including not just the purpose of each parcel but also the individual elements of each building. According to Vance, this level of detail led to ” the largest single deposit in the land registry office’s history,” requiring most of a day to sign all of the documents involved. Council voted to approve the zoning bylaws for Village North on August 14, 1989 and by the end of 1990 WLC began selling development parcels. According to Mayor Drew Meredith, it took some time for Village North to get going and it remained “a weed patch” until developers such as Nat Bosa decided they wanted to be involved.
Once it got going, however, work progressed quickly; Vance recalled a year when up to eleven cranes were up on the Village North site. Looking back in 1997, WLC President Jim Switzer said that the development of a master plan and the completed zoning provided stability and certainly for developers who knew exactly what was expected of them and for the RMOW who could plan for the future based on a clear picture of how development would proceed. In 1993, Mayor Ted Nebbeling cut the ribbon of the bridge over Village Gate Boulevard, officially connecting the Village Stroll through Village North. By 1997, of the development parcels were sold and the entire site was expected to be completed by the end of 1999.
Not everything in Village North went entirely smoothly. Beck’s vision was to have a series of buildings descending with the grade of the Village Stroll, but provincial regulations and the fire department required flat and level platforms, leading to a design with more steps, ramps and raised walkways than Beck wanted and narrowing the pedestrian stroll. Some developers also didn’t want to stick to the master plan. In 2019 Jim Moodie, previously a development consultant for WLC, remembered that the developer of Marketplace tried to convince them that he could “give [them] more money for [their] land” if the developer was allowed to build a one-level strip mall with parking out front and no residential units on top. Not surprisingly, the developer was told to stick to the plan.
In 1997, Switzer said that the primary job of the WLC was to recover the province’s investment in Whistler. According to the calculations of Garry Watson (a Free Person of the Resort Municipality of Whistler), the province invested about $20 million in Whistler when they formed the WLC in 1983 and made around $50 million on the development of Village North. Or, as Meredith summed it up, “They got all their money back and then some” and Whistler got the extended Village we see today.
The Whistler Village is often thought of as a single entity, stretching from the gondolas at the base of Whistler Mountain to Marketplace on Lorimer Road, and for some including the Upper Village at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. For those who visit Whistler for the first time, Village North is just as much a part of the Village as Village Square or Skiers Plaza. Village North, however, was built a whole decade after the development of the “original” Village had begun and, according to some stories from the late 1980s, the Village North of today was almost not built at all.
When Whistler, like the rest of Canada, was hit by a recession in the early 1980s, the Whistler Village was still in the early stages of development. While some buildings were completed and businesses were beginning to open, others had only poured their foundations. In 1983, the provincial government under Premier Bill Bennett established Whistler Land Co. Developments (WLC), a Crown corporation to take over the debts and liabilities of the Whistler Village Land Company. WLC also took over ownership of the Village North lands, which were eventually supposed to provide a return on investment for the province.
The economy slowly recovered and the province and the RMOW started negotiations in 1986 to return control and assets to the RMOW, including the development of Village North. By 1987 most of the Village sites had been completed, the conference centre and golf course were operating, Expo 86 had brought more international exposure to the area, Intrawest had bought Aspen’s interest in Blackcomb and was beginning to develop the Blackcomb Benchlands, and Canadian Pacific Hotels had announced the $80 million Chateau Whistler Resort. Whistler was expanding as a resort and becoming known as a destination.
The relationship between the WLC and the RMOW was not always harmonious. To some, it appeared that the WLC had been sent to “fix the problem” in Whistler and members of the WLC seemed dismissive of the work done and the future ideas for the Village. Over time Chester Johnson, the chair of the WLC board of directors, was persuaded of the merits of Whistler’s original plans for the Village, but Kevin Murphy of BC Place Corporation (another Crown corporations involved in the WLC and the ownership of the Village North lands) needed more convincing. In a speaker event in 2019, Drew Meredith (mayor of Whistler from 1986 to 1990) recalled that Murphy had decided the WLC was going to cut up Village North into residential lots and sell the lots to developers to build what they wanted.
This horrified the RMOW and Meredith called up Lorne Borgal, then the president of Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, and asked to borrow Eldon Beck. At the time, Beck, who had provided much of the vision of the first Whistler Village development, was working for Whistler Mountain on Olympic Meadows plans that never materialized. As Meredith described it, “We injected Eldon into the room with Kevin Murphy and two hours later they came out arm in arm. And what you got is what we got.”
It’s not clear exactly what happened in that meeting, but Beck jokingly described the experience at the same 2019 event: “I just appealed to his good side and so we went into the room together and I talked to him, we sand the Canadian national anthem, hugged, and cried a little bit and came out and the deal was done.” According to Jim Moodie, it was incredibly fortunate for Whistler that Beck got along with Murphy, who was “one of the toughest guys [he] ever worked for.”
An agreement between the province and the RMOW was reached by August 1989 and a detailed plan for the Village North site had been created. Next week, we’ll look a bit more at the development of Village North to the sale of the last lot in 1997.
In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer). Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982. Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.
Some context for this week’s question: A major recession hit North America in late 1981, with interest rates reaching up to 20%. While some buildings in the Whistler Village were completed, much of the first phase was still under construction. Construction of the Resort Centre (known today as the Conference Centre) began in March 1980 and was still ongoing in 1982. The original plans included an Olympic-sized ice rink, swimming pool, whirlpool, saunas, racquetball courts, squash court, restaurant and more. The proposed budget (not including operating costs) was in the $5.5 to 5.8 million range. In January 1983 the provincial government formed Whistler Land Co. Developments, a Crown corporation chaired by Chester Johnson to take over the liabilities and assets of the Whistler Village Land Company. Under Johnson the Resort Centre was reconstructed as a conference centre without the extra recreational facilities and construction was completed by 1986. You can find more information about the Resort Centre here.
Question: Would you be adverse to having any portion of your property taxes go towards finishing the Resort Centre?
Jim Crichton – Carpenter – Alpine Meadows
Yes. The original plan for the convention centre stipulated that the taxpayer was not to pay for it. Think it will be years before that thing is finished and I don’t want to be subsidizing it.
They should get a private developer to take it over and run it.
Barry Johnston – Social Psychologist – Alpine Meadows
I think everyone would say it depends on how much extra we have to pay in taxes.
If they did use our tax money, the Land Company would have to make a much closer accounting to property owners on how the money was spent.
David Kirk – Whistler Village Sports/Whistler Creek Ski Shop – Alta Vista
I would like to see a referendum held in order that some direction – whether it be positive or negative – be given the Land Company and municipality on this issue.
Charlie Doyle – Commercial Artist – MDC
I would be against having any portion of my property taxes going for that purpose.
It was a mistake on the part of the Land Company in estimating costs. Why should we bail them out? They certainly don’t bail out my mistakes.
The centre means something to them only as developers. If they were really interested in the community, they wouldn’t have made it such an epic of a building.
If we were given some benefit, maybe we should consider it. But we’ll end up paying both as taxpayers and as customers once the centre’s finished.
That’s a difficult question to answer. My basic answer is yes, I would be against having any portion of my residential taxes used to finance the sports centre.
I would like to see the major users – namely commercial establishments which benefit the most – pay towards the completion of it, and that statement comes from me as a property owner in the Town Centre.
Why should we taxpayers be responsible for problems incurred by poor management, inflation and other factors?
Drew Meredith – Real Estate Agent – Alta Vista
No, not at all. I’ve been waiting a long time to see that building finished and I’d be willing to put out out of my own pocket for it.
The addition of a full ice area and squash and racquet-ball courts will be a definite asset to the community. It’s not going to be any cheaper in the future.
I wouldn’t be against having my taxes go towards it, providing the Land Company repays the municipality in the future when the real estate market perks up again.