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Financial tools at work in 2007 budget

Village to see major benefits with capital improvements

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By Alison Taylor

The 2007 municipal budget shows Whistler’s new financial tools are being put to extensive use, as the resort gets ready for the 2010 Games.

Of the additional $6 million expected to flow to Whistler from the new portion of the hotel tax, the municipality has earmarked more than $3.2 million for capital projects this year. The provincial government, which is set to give the resort municipality an additional 4 per cent in hotel tax revenues retroactive to July 1, 2006 (roughly $6 million annually), has not yet finalized the agreement. That is expected to come later this week.

Sprucing up the village is a major part of the financial tools program for 2007.

The bulk of the $450,000 budget to upgrade Mountain Square will come from the new financial tools.

The three-month project, slated to start after Labour Day this year, will enhance the character and function of the square, which is surrounded by the Second Cup, the Sundial Hotel, the Crystal Lodge and the Carleton Lodge.

“Mountain Square functions a lot for events but beyond that it doesn’t really have a whole lot of character or reasons to actually stop and linger, apart from Second Cup,” said municipal planner Kevin McFarland.

A concept plan was designed and has been met with some enthusiasm from stakeholders. It includes increasing patio space, adding a warming station, adding public art and accessible seating. There is also a focus on making stores in the area more wheelchair accessible.

McFarland said they hope to tie in with the work being done to stop the leaking into the parkade underneath Mountain Square.

One major challenge, still to be addressed, is how to complete the work without damaging the businesses around the square and the functioning of the resort.

Another major project to be funded from the financial tools is Upper Village Connector, an $800,000 project that will improve the pedestrian route between the day skier parking lots and the Whistler and Blackcomb base areas. There will be new washrooms, way finding, safety and interpretative signage and an overall upgrade to the path. One hundred thousand dollars will be spent this year on the connector with the remainder coming out of the 2008 budget.

The tools will also pay for another $1.25 million in upgrades to the Whistler Conference Centre, which only a few years ago saw roughly $12 million in upgrades.

The budget shows that $450,000 will be spent in 2007 with the remainder spread out over the following four years.

Diane Mombourquette, general manager of economic viability, who recently joined the municipality from Tourism Whistler, explained that a portion of the financial tools would be allocated to ongoing capital investment in the conference centre, allowing Tourism Whistler to focus its dollars on marketing and promoting the resort.

The improvements this year will focus on the upstairs kitchen of the conference centre, making it more efficient and upgrading outdated equipment.

The budget also shows a doubling of funds going towards village enhancement. For the next four years, $300,000 will be spent annually on village enhancement, with half of that budget funded from the financial tools.

This year the scope of work includes an upgrade to the play structure at Marketplace, more public art projects and an upgrade to the Town Plaza gazebo paving.

Outside of the capital budget, the tools will also be used to fund the Whistler Film Festival ($50,000), the Arts Council ($100,000) and the Resort Business Plan ($250,000).

The municipality doesn’t intend to spend it all.

This year more than $3.5 million will be funneled back into reserves — $2 million into the Affordability Reserve and the remainder into the 2010 Games Reserve.

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