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Celebration Sites programming drops by $8.4 million

With medal ceremonies gone, municipality takes over Olympic party planning from VANOC



Now that the municipality is in charge of Olympic entertainment at Celebration Plaza and five other sites within Whistler, the cost of the international party has dropped $8.4 million.

But John Rae, manager of strategic alliances for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said the family-friendly performances will still be "big, robust, and exciting."

About 150 to 200 acts will perform between Feb. 12 and March 21, 2010, including a few "highly recognizable household names," akin to Neil Young or Arcade Fire, he explained.

"The quality of performance and the quality of professionalism will be at the same high level throughout," said Rae. "This is not a talent show. This is not like 'Pick the best.' This is going to be high quality people at the top of their game, whether that is performing arts, visual arts, dance, theatre, or bands."

Top local and regional artists will also perform, he said.

As staff at municipal hall prepare to take over the reins of the Olympic celebrations from VANOC, a new budget is being hammered out.

Rae said the entire cost of the celebration sites program has been whittled down to $11.5 million, significantly below the original $19.9 million figure VANOC planned to spend.

A large part of that decrease comes from VANOC's controversial decision to move the nightly Olympic medal presentations from Celebration Plaza to the sports venues. Because the plaza will require less security (no mag & bag), no doping controls, no IOC hosting facilities and a reduced broadcast compound, $5 million was saved.

VANOC and the Cultural Olympiad have also decreased value-in-kind contributions as part of the $8.4 million reduction. For example, VANOC will no longer provide the infrastructure for Celebration Plaza during the Games. But as part of the negotiations, VANOC will let the RMOW use its equipment for the Paralympic Closing Ceremonies, including a stage, washrooms and back-of-house facilities.

Also, no concerts will be held in Village Square.

Rae said planners decided that holding concerts both at Celebration Plaza and Village Square at the same time would be redundant.

"Previously, in Village Square we were going to have a stage and four concerts per day," said Rae. "Now we are thinking that may be more than we need, because we are also going to have concerts at night at Celebration Plaza."

He added that 50 per cent of the performances will be booked by mid-summer, and all contracts will be signed by October.

The capacity of Celebration Plaza has also decreased, from 8,000 to 7,000.

But even though the municipality is now in charge of the Celebration Sites programming, Rae said the RMOW still only plans to spend $1.5 million, an amount it committed to last fall.

"We are absolutely balancing the budget, and we will not go into deficit. We have enough contingency to be able to manage that," stressed Rae.

"Every day I am getting together with the senior people working on this project to make sure we have an incredibly detailed understanding of the budget and manage it properly before we make any commitments."

Rae said the federal government will still contribute $5 million towards the Olympic entertainment. The remaining $5 million for programming will come from sponsors, the Cultural Olympiad and revenue.

Celebration Plaza, next to the Brewhouse, will be the largest of the six Celebration Sites and central locale for concerts, along with the closing ceremonies for the Paralympics. Athletes' accomplishments will also be celebrated at the plaza, even though they will have already received their medals.

Other entertainment hot spots will include Town Plaza, which will showcase singers, songwriters, storytellers and other "intimate" performers. Mountain Square will be home to the CTV studio; and Much Music will broadcast live twice a day with their TV show "Much on Demand." The Village Common will house arts, including possibly an artisan market in the evening.

Also, performances will be held at Village Square and Skiers Plaza.

But whether the Celebration Sites program will attract Olympic spectators from the Nordic and alpine venues into Whistler Village during February 2010 remains unanswered.

Many in town, including Mayor Ken Melamed, expressed concern earlier this year that not having the medals awarded in Celebration Plaza will likely affect the atmosphere in town.

Also, the Lot 1/9 taskforce will meet next week to re-visit the Celebration Plaza construction plans, now that the medal ceremonies are gone.

Rae, and other representatives from the municipality, have stressed over the past few weeks that VANOC will still spend its promised $4.2 million to help the RMOW build Celebration Plaza. Another $5 million will come from the Canadian government, and $4.5 million will come from hotel tax revenue the RMOW receives.

During the Winter Games, the $13.7 million plaza will have a huge performance stage, two giant video screens, and an Olympic cauldron. Tickets will only be used to enter Celebration Plaza if the municipality "anticipates a major draw" to one of the concerts. All tickets will be free.

Celebration Sites is a partnership between the RMOW, VANOC, the Government of Canada and the Whistler Arts Council.