SODC’s Big Idea that Wasn’t: A Gondola up to the Chief

SODC had debated a gondola project, but finally rejected it. An artist's rendering of the proposal.

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March, 2012

Documents obtained by the Squamish Reporter show Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC) was planning to build a gondola, one that would connect the Oceanfront to the second peak of the Squamish Chief Mountain or to the Shannon Falls Overlook.

“A gondola was certainly one of the ideas we discussed, but we finally decided it won’t be feasible,” said SODC chair Bill McNeney.

Still, SODC was serious enough to do a detailed feasibility study on the gondola, even breaking down the capital costs ($14-16 million), and estimating yearly revenues ($6 million gross).  

Eventually, the SODC board decided it would be too cost prohibitive, and the plan was dropped.

But in what could only be called a lucky twist for Squamish, just as SODC dropped the ball on the gondola, Trevor Dunn and David Greenfield picked it up and re-shaped it as a completely different proposal.

Greenfield and Dunn were working as consultants to the SODC in 2009 when the idea was first proposed. They were part of the project team that brought forward the gondola proposal to SODC.

But Dunn says a clear distinction must be made between the SODC proposal and the current, private proposal put forward by him and Greenfield.

“This is a completely different proposal and we are quite proud of it,” Dunn said.

McNeney agrees.

The Reporter has in its possession a letter that SODC board wrote to Dunn and Greenfield, telling them the board didn’t see any “conflict of interest” in the Sea to Sky Gondola.

The BIG IDEA

When they first started discussing the gondola, the SODC project team wanted to bring forward a BIG IDEA  to Squamish.

At a May 2009 SODC meeting, board members and consultants talked about an iconic “Natural” attraction on the site that could be a “must-see” or a “must-do” attraction for tourists when they visit Squamish.

“This could be a facility, a place, or an event. Let’s try and provide the answer for, “The Squamish Oceanfront is famous for…”

As an answer, more than a dozen attractions were debated: West Coast Marine Exhibit, Great Wolf Oceanfront Park, Zipline from the Malemute, Giant Eagle Monument, a permanent marine film set, Goats on the Roof, and then finally, a gondola up to the Chief linking the Sea to Sky.

SODC finally settled on the gondola proposal, and was willing to pay for a feasibility study, which was conducted by Ecosign Adventures for somewhere close to $15,000.

They proposed an aerial route from the Oceanfront to the pedestrian bridge on the west side of the Highway. Visitors would then walk to the base station, take a gondola up to the second peak of the Chief  or up to the Shannon Falls overlook.

To get to the base station from Oceanfront, SODC also considered a water taxi route. 

Expenses, sight lines, and revenue and expense projection were also examined by Ecosign Adventures.

An adult ticket would have cost $25, for example. When completed, the gondola would have employed roughly 12 people: Six for lift operations, and another six for life mechanic, electrician, and apprentice.

SODC chair Bill McNeney said the gondola proposal was rejected by SODC because it was considered financially unviable. For one, charting a route over the power lines along Loggers Lane would have posed a practical and an expensive problem, McNeney said.

There was also the issue of clearence over the Mamquam Blind Channel, exposure to high winds, and the prohibitive cost of a tramway type lift from the Oceanfront.

“It seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t work out in the end,” McNeney added.

Comments

  1. Christopher says:

    that’s history.
    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the new excellent work in progress that does not bother or touch the Chief or the Falls: http://www.seatoskygondola.com/ This is one of the best things Squamish can do right now to enhance visitor experience.