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Canmore officials looking to Whistler as blueprint to acquire resort status

The town is hoping to leverage a possible Olympic bid to acquire tourism funding

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Officials from the Town of Canmore, Alta. are hoping to leverage a potential Olympic bid into resort community recognition from the province—and they're looking to Whistler's own Games experience as the blueprint.

Since the early 2000s, political leaders from the Bow Valley have lobbied Edmonton to recognize the distinct needs of their respective resort communities—to no avail.

"What we're looking for is a sustainable funding model that allows our tourism communities to prosper and provide amenities that support tourism. The Province of Alberta has announced its own tourist strategy, and they want to grow tourism in the province to a $10-billion level," explained Canmore's Chief Administrative Officer Lisa de Soto. "We, as tourism-based communities, feel they can't do that without the support of our communities, because quite frankly, communities are the product."

Unlike B.C., Alberta does not have a system to recognize the infrastructural burden shouldered by tourism-based municipalities. A resort municipality since the mid-1970s, Whistler used the momentum of hosting the 2010 Games to acquire Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding, an incentive-based program that has been doled out on an annual basis since 2006. The funding is determined through a formula that multiplies a community's number of accommodation units by the previous calendar year's hotel tax revenues. RMI funding has not been finalized for 2018, but Whistler received a total of $6.68 million last year. The funds are designed to help grow visitation, and the RMOW has used the funds on a variety of programs and amenities over the years, including its Whistler Presents concert series, and enhancements to the village, the alpine trail network and the Cultural Connector.

But replicating a funding model similar to the RMI program will be difficult, explained Christine Nadon, legislative services manager for the Municipality of Jasper, which has also been pushing for years for tourism-community status.

"There's a recognition that we need it, but the debate is on, 'How do we get it?'" she said, noting how a province-wide, four-per-cent hotel tax already goes towards marketing the province through Travel Alberta. "So now that it's been allocated to tourism marketing, it's hard to say, 'Oh yeah, we want your cut.' That's not a very popular option, as you can imagine.

"(We want) the province to acknowledge that we have needs that are different than other communities of similar size, and then after that, a discussion on the tools and how (the funding) would actually take place can happen."

De Soto said Canmore has been looking to three foundational documents Whistler officials drafted as a strategic framework for hosting the 2010 Olympics for guidance, called "Delivering the Dream," "Investing in the Dream," and "Living the Dream." De Soto has also consulted with former municipal chief administrative officer and executive director for Whistler's 2010 Games office, Jim Godfrey.

"Those documents that Whistler provided are really a summary of the best practices that were implemented and a bit of a roadmap for others considering an Olympic event or bid," de Soto said. "One of the major pieces of advice is to partner. It might seem obvious, but there are benefits to partnership because municipalities certainly can't do it on their own."

Whistler also leveraged its co-hosting role into 244 additional affordable housing units created through the development of the Olympic Athletes' Village in Cheakamus Crossing. It also acquired a 121-hectare land bank earmarked for future housing.

"Canmore, like Whistler, also struggles with affordability and affordable housing, so we've certainly looked to Whistler and are aware of the strong legacy Whistler achieved through the Cheakamus (Crossing neighbourhood)," de Soto said. "We're certainly looking at repurposing any Athletes' Village housing that's developed in Canmore for perpetually affordable housing."

De Soto has been named as Canmore's representative on the Olympic Bid Corporation for a possible 2026 event, with Calgary serving as the main host. Canmore's municipal council has yet to formally approve the community's inclusion in the bid, however, but, if greenlit, de Soto is hopeful the municipality will be able to follow in Whistler's footsteps by finally convincing the province to create a tourism-community status.

"Whistler and Vancouver were so successful and did the country, the province and their communities so proud that if we have the opportunity to do the same, we'd look to replicate that in some way," she added. "While it's a huge opportunity, it's a huge responsibility as well, and you want to make sure you have the resources and the ability to deliver on that kind of a promise and expectation."

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