Is this the year the popular “jobs, jobs, jobs” political rallying cry finally gains traction? Three projects in the Squamish destination venue sector have the potential to turn that well-worn mantra into a reality.
Design work and building permit applications for the Sea to Sky Gondola are underway. If Grouse Mountain is a reliable gauge, our own version of that highly successful operation will soon become a key local tourist attraction. Once the site opens, an estimated 300,000 visitors annually will have access to mountaintop vistas previously only reachable by hikers and climbers. The proponents are hoping to kick-start the $25 million project by this March, thereby creating demand for hundreds of construction jobs and about 30 full-time positions when the venture is up and running.
Another leading player is the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corp. They recently hired the real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield to take the former Nexen lands to market. The project promises thousands of construction jobs and employment for more than 2,000 full-time workers at build-out. Despite a number of nagging feasibility issues, in theory the Granville Island knockoff could be the long-term, job-generating engine Squamish has been missing since Woodfibre was shuttered and B.C. Rail bid us farewell.
A third large-scale contender is Garibaldi at Squamish, the proposed four-season resort that has waxed and waned in consort with the local tides. Who can forget the prolonged and successful anti-GAS attack led by Catherine Jackson, the former president of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society? Jackson has decamped to Norway but new voices of opposition are being raised about the development. Brenda Bjorkman, who lives in Paradise Valley, where GAS is ready to test drill three wells to supply water for the resort, is “horrified” to hear about what she refers to as a “ridiculous plan.” “Has anyone with common sense actually stood up and said, ‘stop the insanity already, this proposal is not viable for this area’?” she asks. Still, if Wolfgang Richter and his deep-pocketed backer Francesco Aquilini can overcome the existing environmental assessment challenges, GAS could get Victoria’s approval much like the green light given to the Jumbo Glacier ski development near Invermere. GAS proponents project their $1-billion investment will create 13,000 jobs over the 15-to-20-year construction period and another 2,400 permanent jobs during operations.
In this highly polarized community, the above trifecta of major ventures has generated the usual heated exchanges between enthusiastic supporters and “over my dead body” opponents. While GAS and the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corp. are still getting all their ducks in a row, the spade-ready Sea to Sky Gondola is the odds-on favourite in the job creation derby.