Whitney's financial adviser had "90 reasons why he shouldn't invest in Bear Mountain," says Barrie. "We got it down to 45, then down to 20 and 12; then they flew out to Victoria," he says. Whitney's $3-million investment made him the fourth-largest shareholder in Bear Mountain. Barrie says he learned a lot from the legal wrangling, and it made it easier to approach other investors.
Other NHL bright and lesser lights invested, including Whitney's teammate Mike Sillinger, Rob Blake, Gary Roberts, Greg Adams, Joe Nieuwendyk, Matt Pettinger, Mike Vernon, Rob Niedermayer, Ryan Smyth, Scott Mellanby, Sean Burke and Trevor Kidd.
But Barrie was running out of money. His cost estimates, he realized, had been way out of whack: He'd budgeted $8.5 million for the golf course; it ended up coming in at $18 million. Building roads, he'd figured, would eat up $5 million; they cost double that. B.C.'s hot construction market was partly to blame.
The real estate boom also meant that demand for Bear Mountain's properties skyrocketed, however. Lots doubled or tripled in price as interest rates dropped and pent-up demand erupted. Barrie realized his resort could be bigger-much bigger. Over the next several months, the project grew from 1,500 residences, one course and a smattering of commercial space to its current girth of almost 6,000 doors, over 200 hotel rooms (the Westin Bear Mountain opened in 2005), a 12,000-square-foot spa, three restaurants and an expansive gym and athletic club.
The first 10 phases of lots sold out; so did four luxury condo buildings, three townhome developments and most of the quarter-share offerings. By October, 2007, presales totalled $400 million. Bear Mountain sold $140 million worth of real estate on one day in November, 2005, a record for Vancouver Island.
It wasn't Bear Mountain itself that caused the biggest trouble for Barrie. Instead, it was the construction of his own 15,000-square-foot house that finally turned First Nations groups against him.
Barrie had chosen a prime spot for his new ranch-style pad, on a steep hillside overlooking the resort. With views of the ocean, Victoria and the Esquimalt naval base, the spot is thick with arbutus trees. It is also, according to the Songhees and Tsartlip First Nations, home to a cave and subterranean lake once thought to be the stuff of legend.
In February, 2005, Cheryl Bryce, the land manager for the Songhees, demanded that Barrie halt construction on the property and conduct an archeological assessment of Bear Mountain. The Langford council agreed, sending Barrie and his company a letter advising them to bring in an archeologist to assess the site. Barrie ignored it. "We couldn't afford to stop," he says.
That spring, Bryce threatened to seek a court injunction to stop construction. Yet, Barrie says, she refused to disclose the exact location of the cave (she says it was to save the sacred site from "scavengers"), and at a May meeting, he went so far as to dispute its very existence. "You know, if we want to blow up a cave and put up a hotel, we will," he told the angry crowd. "I bought the property, I own it, we have the mining rights, so what?"
Eventually, the province and municipality intervened, and Barrie agreed to an archeological survey. But the dispute erupted again in November, 2006, when First Nations activists led Victoria reporters and photographers to a cave whose entrance had been filled with wood debris, tree stumps and old tires. The natives alleged Barrie had purposely destroyed the cave, telling the press he was committing "cultural genocide."
Early on Nov. 17, hundreds of construction workers tussled with protesters near the cave. The RCMP kept the angry groups apart while racial epithets flew. Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, evoked Oka and Ipperwash, two of the most toxic confrontations over native lands in Canadian history.
Barrie admits he helped orchestrate the showdown, though he adds it took little to motivate his workers: "The guys who work up there are not guys who live in Oak Bay [a wealthy Victoria community]and drink tea," he says. "These are guys who have to feed their families and respect what we've done. We have jobs here-not low-paying jobs, but hundreds of hundred-thousand-plus-dollar jobs, and people are going to stand up and defend them."
Nonetheless, he and a group of provincial officials met native leaders around a fire at the Tsartlip band longhouse. "If I was there as Len Barrie, I would have lost it and hit someone," he says. "But I was there as a representative of Bear Mountain, and I had to make this work." In the end, the province, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, Bear Mountain Development and the City of Langford negotiated a cost-sharing deal for construction of Barrie's long-sought-after, $30-million Bear Mountain Interchange, which will ease congestion and serve residents heading north and into the development. They also worked out an outline of economic opportunities for the Songhees.Report Typo/Error
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