Whistler’s EPI Report – Avoiding the Issues

BAW4.2Recently the RMOW provided an update on it’s progress since its Economic Progress Report from October 2013 Report .  As many locals may know, the EPI Report is a full-blown foundational attempt by Whistler to restore growth and lustre to the resort and the community. It’s (allegedly) a holistic look at what Whistler needs to do to maintain its leadership as a world class resort.

By way of background, apparently the Whistler Economic Partner Initiative (EPI) was initiated in September of 2012. A Committee was formed of key officials with the notion of coming together to formulate a plan with recommendations around improving Whistler’s economic future.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.36.36 AM

Their 3 primary goals (as taken from their report);

1. Growing the resort community economy
2. Building confidence in the resort community economy, and
3. Encouraging reinvestment in Whistler

As a first observation, readers will note the 6 month progress update was a largely glowing interim progress report provided by those tasked with implementing the improvements. It’s not surprising to find that the report gives its authors a positive review of their own progress to date.

But it is surprising to consider the things the report doesn’t talk about. It’s beautiful, it’s glossy, and …..it completely avoids dealing with core issues in Whistler’s economy.

Let’s consider the stated goals of the report, listed above.  If you’re going to grow an economy, build confidence, and encourage reinvestment, you might want to discuss whether it’s actually a safe place to invest.  You might, for example, want to first assure that people who you encourage to invest in your community that they won’t be disenfranchised and locked out of their own property under the cover of your rules.  And somewhere, you might at least be willing to discuss the problem instead of cowering noncommittally in the corner with one part of your government while issuing glowing proclamations of your progress with another.

We did a word search of the report.  This 80 page report lists the word “Whistler” a total of 342 times. The term “real estate” is mentioned only 3. And guess how many times the word “covenant” is mentioned in this report? You guessed it……..0. Apparently it’s either not a known problem or a priority.

GIven long-simmering problems in Whistler’s Phase 2 market, this is surprising.  Whistler has almost 5000 Phase 2 hotels and condo units…..even more if you count Phase 1.  Real estate, and confidence in it, is a significant portion of the Whistler economy. In fact, we would suggest that this was the real estate model that funded much of the Whistler resort development. Projects such as The Four Seasons, The Westin, The Pan Pacific and a whole host of others are classified as Phase 2 real estate, which means Whistler attaches a covenant restricting an owners usage and requires them to put their unit into a rental pool. All good in theory.

So how is Whistler real estate doing? How has it rebounded relative to the other resorts that Whistler compares themselves to in this report?

How many Phase 1 or Phase 2 owners would suggest that their investment in Whistler has been a good one? How would they rate the City at administering their covenant and preventing it’s abuse?

In other words……if you asked these investors if their Whistler real estate investment experience was a good one and would they do it again, what would they say? How would Whistler rank?

We’ll save you the trouble…….you won’t find any of these answers in this report (and if you did, many wouldn’t be good).

Meanwhile, the Whistler Report goes to great lengths to adopt the mantle of professional business speak.  There are, for example, “KPI’s” – Key Performance Indicators.  We would respectfully suggest that one of the Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s for the performance of any resort economy is the performance of its real estate market.

Set aside for a moment, profit and loss – for starters let’s just ask, are basic property rights respected?  Or how about this: what is the level of satisfaction by investors and property owners with how their projects are administered?  Do they feel the model works? The Committee that sponsored this EPI Report either doesn’t think these are important questions or perhaps they had other reasons for omitting the data. You be the judge.

When we read this report, we can’t help wonder if it might be nothing more than a taxpayer funded re-election document.

We have a request of the Whistler government.  Please stop wasting money appearing to address issues and start taking real action and fix real problems.  Start with administering your own real estate covenants and restoring confidence with the local and international real estate investors that helped build this resort. The other measures are undoubtedly good ideas, and the work that went into them deserves commendation.  But unless Whistler’s government actually wrestles with some underlying problems, it’s all for naught.

Without predictable project governance, and some certainty that the City will thoughtfully manage its own rules, it’s just window dressing.

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