Council has approved the allocation of $820,000 of Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds to the Festival, Events and Animation (FEA) program to boost Whistler's cultural offerings into the fall and winter.
While the province has yet to officially sign off on the funds, it has allocated $7.5 million to Whistler - $1 million more than expected - through the program, with the understanding that the town will use it to draw in more tourists.
In his presentation to council June 21, Bob Andrea, manager of Village Animation and Events, said that programming throughout the village is vital to making that happen and, in the process, "get Whistler back to where it should be."
"The idea is that we're going to build on the momentum that we built during the Games," he said. "The way we're going to do that is through cultural tourism. It's a big opportunity."
Staff requested the additional funds, which would bring the FEA budget up from $2.1 million to $2.92 million, to augment existing programming during popular events like Whistler Holiday Experience, Whistler Children's Festival and First Night, while adding programming to key travel weekends throughout the fall, including both Canadian and American Thanksgiving, Cornucopia and Halloween. Plans are also in the works to add stargazing at Rainbow Park into the mix, along with lighting displays and artisan markets and workshops at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
The original funds were set to pay for programming throughout the summer, tripling the budget for village animation over previous years, along with other administrative costs for Olympic Plaza - which will support much of the programming - and communication. The programming schedule is available through whistler.ca. The website shows events happening four to five days every week, leading off with a four-day Canada Day celebration.
Of the new allocated funds, $450,000 will be spent on programming, $260,000 (?) will be spent on plaza and pavilion improvements to enhance "programmability and flexibility" that will include a moveable screen at the pavilion, and other costs associated with running the plaza.
Jan Jansen, the RMOW general manager of resort experience, said the extra $820,000 already exists within the RMI program but will be reallocated from the $680,000 day parking Lot 5 paving project, originally set for fall but now on hold, to animation. Another $140,000 will come from the RMI reserves.
Councillors voted unanimously to amending the budget, though Councillor Eckhard Zeidler expressed concern about his uncertainty around managing the high costs of FEA programming. The municipality has budgeted RMI contributions in the five-year financial plan at $6.5 million every year, but Zeidler said there is no certainty that the province will provide that kind of money in the future.