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A $1 billion project to expand Quebec's Mont Tremblant Resort will make the area one of the most popular four-season tourism destinations in North America, "second perhaps only to what's happening in Orlando", says the developer's chief executive. Intrawest's Joe Houssian says the project, which includes $95 million in government funding, will take place over 10 years.

In 1991, the Mont Tremblant Resort had 400,000 visitors, of which five per cent came from outside of Canada. It is currently attracting 2.3 million per year, with 40 per cent from outside the country. Intrawest says once the new project is completed, Tremblant will be able to receive 4.5 million visitors per year, and it's expecting that half will be from outside Canada. In addition to its main attractions of skiing and golf, it promises more than 200 additional activities will be offered at and around the resort.

Work on the first phase of the expansion began yesterday and will continue until 2007. It includes a pedestrian village with six hotels, including 1,500 condominium and hotel units, one 500-room hotel and a 200-room luxury spa hotel. There will also be a multifunctional convention centre, boutiques and restaurants, a two-acre park, a lake and new chairlifts.

The focus for the second phase of expansion, scheduled for 2007 to 2014, is family activities. It will include the Mont Tremblant National Park and several outdoor activities. There will also be about 1,000 condo-hotel units and 500 new residential units.

The federal and provincial governments are each contributing $47.5 million. The Quebec portion includes a $32 million "tax holiday", $10.5 million in infrastructure funding and $5 million worth of promotional support from Tourisme Quebec. The federal money is from the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund, and will be used to develop roadways, waterworks and sewer systems. At the news conference announcing the event, government officials were asked why government money was necessary to fund the expansion of an already profitable resort.

Michel Audet, the Quebec minister of economic and regional development, says the positive economic impact of the project justifies the expense. The ministry says the Tremblant region will benefit from economic spinoffs worth $140 million per year.

In a news release, Intrawest says, "This investment will have major economic benefits even in its first year. Total tax revenues are expected to be $1 billion for the governments' $95 million investment. In addition, starting in the first year, the governments, which will have invested $31 million, will receive $49 million in income taxes...and other revenues."

But John Williamson, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayer's Association, told The Canadian Press that the deal "creates a culture of dependence, where the owners of Tremblant are becoming 'grantepreneurs' seeking government help for their projects when they should be raising the money themselves."

For those looking to buy property near the resort, The 2004 Re/Max Recreational Property Report says, "Popular Lac Tremblant remains an exclusive getaway for affluent purchasers, as entry-level recreational properties are now priced at $1 million." One property currently listed for sale carries a $10 million price tag.

The Re/Max report says, "More affordable options are available at nearby Lac-de-Trois-Montagnes, located just 20 minutes from Mt. Tremblant, with the price of a three-bedroom winterized property on a standard-sized waterfront lot starting from $350,000."

The report says sales of condominiums at the base of the mountain "have come to a virtual standstill in recent months" because of an oversupply. It says more Canadians have been choosing to go south because of the strong Canadian dollar. Last year was also bad for Canadian tourism because of concerns about the SARS epidemic and Mad Cow Disease.

However, Intrawest officials are confident that tourism decreases seen in 2001 and 2003 were temporary and that the future is bright. The resort's reputation has been built on Mont Tremblant's natural setting and excellent skiing and golf facilities.

Intrawest owns or controls 10 mountain resorts in Canada and the U.S., as well as other resorts. It is currently developing six more resort villages in North America and Europe.

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