Yes, the free concerts are returning.
Members of the Festivals, Events & Animation Oversight Committee revealed the details of the $2.68 million FE&A program to council on Tuesday evening (May 1), which will include a mix of new programming and the return of previous festivals, as well as four free concerts under the Whistler Presents banner to fill gaps in the summer programming.
Just who exactly will be playing these concerts is yet to be determined, but the first show is slated for the second week of July.
"We have to hit the ground running as quick as possible," said John Rae, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's manager of strategic alliances during his presentation to council.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that the concerts are not designed to bring tourists to Whistler, but rather to enhance the experience for those that are already in town. A lesson learned from last year was that the 2011 Whistler Presents series did not drive significant room night numbers.
However, the FE&A program as a whole is designed to drive room nights focusing on visitors from B.C. and Washington State. Targeting Ontario is also part of the plan.
Since concerts are no longer considered drivers for room nights significantly less money will be allocated for each individual concert. Rather than paying between $500,000-$600,000 per night, Wilhem-Morden said they'll spend $140,000 per night.
"There's a real shift in thinking about the concerts," she said.
Council created the committee in March as a way to engage community partners to decide the best ways to spend the FE&A-designated Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds. A working group — made up of various community stakeholders, including Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Arts Council — met 14 times under the guidance of the Oversight Committee to determine the best use of the funds.
The Oversight Committee includes member-at-large Sue Adams, Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher, council representative Roger McCarthy, RMOW CAO Mike Furey and RMOW manager of resort experience Jan Jansen.
FE&A programming will begin for the May long weekend and will run through the fall, ending with the village New Year's Eve celebrations. Original programming has been allotted $875,000 and will include the four free concerts, as well as the launch of a multi-day fall festival that Rae says will be the foundation of a long-term room-night driver for Whistler.
"We're going to be reaching out to various industry partners and saying, 'what is the best way? What is the best programming? What's the best theming to put in the marketplace to be able to attract people at that time of year?'" Rae said.
Another $645,000 has been reserved for village animation, $475,000 has been earmarked for augmentation of existing events and $55,000 has been allocated for the testing and development of new festivals — $25,000 for the First Nation's Festival, $5,000 for the Intercultural Festival and another $25,000 unallocated for future events.