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Five new events get funding from municipal FE&A program

RMI uncertainty continues to cast a shadow over successful municipal program



Fifteen separate event producers asked for $1.2 million from the municipal Festivals, Events & Animation program this year, more than half of total funding available in the pot for the 2015 program.

Though the program's survival is uncertain — the provincial government has yet to confirm RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) funding for Whistler this year, and is reviewing the RMI program, which sees more than $7 million annually flow from Victoria to Whistler with an aim at boosting tourism — Whistler is marching on with its 2015 program to the tune of $3.1 million.

"Everyone knows that the program has been under review by the province," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden after Tuesday's (Feb. 3) council meeting, adding that the review was in the backs of their minds throughout the planning last year.

There is enough money in the RMI reserve fund to cover the 2015 program, which is credited in part with driving room nights to record levels in the summer.

Inevitably, there was some disappointment when the list of successful event producers was released Tuesday night.

But there was also a lot of excitement for newcomers to the FE&A program.

This year, the municipality granted $20,000 to the Whistler Village Beer Festival. Heading into its third year, it's the first time it has had FE&A operational funding.

"It just feels good," said Joey Gibbons, the driving financial force behind the beer festival through Gibbons Life. "We want to continue to reinvest back into the community."

The investment and recognition from the municipality to help grow the festival will have spin-off effects.

"It makes you want to work harder," said Gibbons.

Four other newcomers also received funding: Outerbike ($10,000), Whistler Pride and Ski Festival ($25,000), Mudderella ($45,000) and Whistler Ultra ($10,000).

Grant Lamont, the local face of the mountain bike tradeshow Outerbike, which is coming to Whistler for the first time in June, said the money would be put to good use.

"It's great... because it allows us to weather-proof this event," he said.

Specifically, he's looking to ensure that 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of tenting comes into the day lots to offer participants a place to gather, to meet and greet and where they won't have to worry about inclement weather in early June.

"We want to create more of a central, social hub," he said.

The money will also be used to hire communications people on a short-term basis to spread the word about the bike riding in Whistler in June.

Also new this year, Whistler Pride and Ski Festival received $25,000, which went towards a comedy night during the annual ski week. It was held in Whistler last week. The midweek event was a sell out; a good example of what these funds can do, said the mayor (see related story, pg. 26).

Some events, however, were not successful this year.

Wanderlust, a mainstay summer yoga event, applied, but was unsuccessful in securing FE&A money for the first time.

"This is a prime example of how the "attract, retain and augment" funds are supposed to work," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"They (Wanderlust) are a very successful, privately owned organization and each year we reduced the amount of funds we were giving... This year it was reduced to zero. However, they are a very important festival (and)... will receive assistance from municipal staff for marshalling and things like that."

There will also be a concert that weekend, organized by Whistler Presents, which also comes from the FE&A budget, designed to create animation and buzz in the village.

"So we haven't cut them loose; they're just not getting any RMI funding," said the mayor.

Similarly, several events saw a reduction in funding this year,

GranFondo dropped from an investment of $65,000 to $35,000 and Crankworx dropped from $75,000 to $37,000.

"No surprise to those people," said the mayor. "We were clear — we would help them and then they would be on their own."

As for original programming, Whistler will invest in the May long weekend Go Fest, Canada Day, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Whistler Presents free concert series. There are 12 dates set for 2015 concerts at Whistler Olympic Plaza,

The FE&A budget also takes into account more than half a million in animation and almost $200,000 is set aside for marketing.