The much-anticipated gondola to Whistler's exclusive Kadenwood subdivision is set to open next week with the financial backing of the development's new owners, Ecoasis Properties Ltd.
Kadenwood changed hands at the end of September when Ecoasis purchased the property from Intrawest, which has been selling off assets as part of a corporate restructuring aimed at paying down debt. Ecoasis bought Kadenwood, a venture of Intrawest Placemaking, for an undisclosed sum.
The sale of the real estate development is the latest in Intrawest's ongoing liquidation of assets. Earlier this year Intrawest sold off several of its resorts including Copper Mountain resort in Colorado, Panorama Mountain Resort in southeastern B.C., Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Florida, Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey, and its real estate holdings in Squaw Valley, Calif.
"(The gondola) tops off the ultimate enclave in North America's top-rated ski resort," Keith McIvor, vice-president of sales for Ecoasis, said in a statement. Company executives were unavailable for interviews.
The gondola will be for the exclusive use of residents and guests of Kadenwood, which claims bragging rights as the only ski in-ski out resort community in Canada accessed by its own gondola.
Developed at a cost of $3.5 million, the gondola rises 750 feet at a 25 per cent slope. Travel time from bottom to top will be six minutes. The gondola will run only four cabins, which can accommodate eight people each.
Local realtor John Ryan of Whistler Real Estate Co. Ltd, believes the gondola will boost interest in Kadenwood, which will have 60 homes when complete.
Prior to Ecoasis acquiring Kadenwood, two phases totalling 40 lots had been released at prices starting at $1.5 million. Approximately 18 homes have been built to date, with more in the works.
The project has faced several challenges, however.
Originally launched in fall 2001, sales stalled in the economic turmoil that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. A concurrent downturn in business and leisure travel added to Whistler's woes.
But then sales activity was renewed in Kadenwood as local real estate markets staged a historic rebound through 2009.
The opening of the gondola will boost access to a secluded neighbourhood with desirable views.
"The gondola pretty well separates us from any neighbourhood in North America in terms of ski resorts," Ryan said. "It will be interesting to just see how it does impact the real estate up there. Obviously, it's going to be a positive. It's just a question of how much of a positive and the strength of that impact."
Ryan, who currently has four homes and one lot at Kadenwood among his listings, said the initial announcement of the gondola's construction in 2007 gave sales in the subdivision a boost. The subsequent downturn in real estate markets cooled activity, but he believes the projects' new ownership and the vision Ecoasis brings will help.
Ken Melamed, Whistler's mayor and a councillor when Intrawest won approval for the gondola project, said completion of the project will be welcome. Residents had to take Intrawest to court to secure the gondola, he said, and it was initially slated for completion two years ago. Its completion hasn't come too soon.
"It's been a bit of a challenge to watch the time it's taken for the gondola to be built," he said, while noting that the entire development has taken time to find its feet and a downturn in real estate markets didn't help.
"It's probably taken a lot longer than Intrawest had anticipated originally," Melamed said.
He was encouraged by a conversation he had with Ecoasis representatives a month ago, during which it was suggested that the final phase of the development, set to launch in early 2011, will feature environment-friendly design.
"I think they intend to try and showcase some leading edge, innovative, responsible development in terms of energy efficiency, green building approaches and design," he said. "If they complete on this new development approach, I think it's a very positive thing."