Starting next month, Whistler Olympic Plaza will be transformed into a winter wonderland complete with an ice rink, snow play area and perhaps even sledding.
In a move that was deemed "rushed" by two councillors during Tuesday's (Nov. 15) Whistler Council meeting -the final meeting before the election - council voted 5-2 to approve the transformation of the plaza to the tune of $487,700 from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds.
"What we've seen is a transformation of the space. We've had concerts, bike races, animation and car clubs. A lot of energy has been brought to the north of the Village that we haven't seen before," Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience, told council during a presentation on the proposal.
"We'd like to extend things for the winter months and there remains an interest in ice skating from the visitors, an interest in family activities, and we'd like to continue what we already started by bringing the community and visitors together."
Set for a Dec. 20 opening, the ice rink will run until April 2, 2012, be open to the public seven days a week and operate from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with hosted sessions and skate rentals available during two timeframes each day.
Those with their own skates will be able to enjoy the ice free of charge, and Jansen also mentioned that a small sliding hill could be created, depending on the snow in the area.
"This is a great use of these funds, something that's been screamed about for the six years I've been involved and it's going to be great for business," said Coun. Chris Quinlan. "It's about making business for people here that much better and this is going to expand the operation of business when it is there. Thanks for getting this done quickly."
Coun. Ralph Forsyth agreed, saying that the rink is the perfect example of why the RMI fund exists.
"This is part of legacy from the Olympic Games and why the Province gave us RMI funds - to produce a new product that is exciting to revitalize our Village," he said. "This will bring guests and locals into the Village and Whistler is at its best when the locals are there enjoying the same amenities as its guests."
While the presentation seemed to be received positively by most of council, with Coun. Tom Thomson trying to move the motion even before Jansen had stepped away from the podium, councillors Grant Lamont and Eckhard Zeidler said they were unable to support the motion.
"I will not be supporting this. The timing seems a little rushed," said Lamont. "One of the things that disturbs me is that when I see it being free of charge, it doesn't work for me at this point. I would like to see how we can partner for success on this thing and have a program that works with sponsorship, maybe ask the FEA (Festivals, Events and Animation department) to see if are any demands for shows.
"It's something I'd like to see in the future, but it's not something I would like to see this year."
Added Zeidler, "I think the timing is really unfortunate. This is something I wanted to see the new council take up. Something like this is not the tone that I sense in this community as this council ends. I would like to see this put off for two weeks."
Despite the opposition, the motion was passed to install the skating rink as a pilot project for this winter. If the pilot is successful, the municipality will explore options for a more permanent ice surface.
"Sharpen your skates," said Jansen.