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Municipality increases budget for conference centre renovations

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Whistler council has allocated another $750,000 for the first phase of renovations to the Whistler Conference Centre, bringing the municipality’s commitment toward the project to $4.5 million this year.

The money comes from the municipality’s hotel tax reserve.

Tourism Whistler has also upped its commitment to $4.5 million this year. The renovations that are expected to begin sometime between June and September.

Renovations to the conference centre, which was originally intended to be a hockey rink, have been planned for a couple of years. The budget for renovations went from $7.5 million to $22 million last year when it was announced the improvements would include the "greening" of the building through the use of environmentally sustainable heating and cooling systems, building materials and energy conservation systems.

Tourism Whistler, which operates the conference centre, applied for an infrastructure grant that would see the renovation costs split three ways, amongst the federal and provincial governments and the municipality and Tourism Whistler. The grant was not approved.

There may yet be federal money available for the renovations, if the World Economic Forum decides to hold its annual meeting in Whistler in January of 2004. A decision from the Swiss-based organization is expected in the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, with no funds being offered by senior levels of government, the renovation plans have been broken down into two phases. The first phase will include a new roof for the conference centre, a dramatic new entrance providing views of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, increased ballroom capacity, increased meeting room capacity, new telecommunications wiring and equipment, some electrical upgrades and new sustainable finishes on the building. The cost of the phase I renovations is $9 million.

Phase II renovations would include further increased capacity in the ballroom and meeting rooms, a new daycare/staff amenity area, geothermal heating, a passive cold water cooling system, a system to retain rain water, and a grey water circulation system. Phase II renovations are estimated to cost $15 million and are largely dependent upon funding from senior levels of government.

The renovations could be done more efficiently, for a total of $22 million, if both phases were done at once.

Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak told council the conference centre brings $19 million in annual delegate spending to Whistler and that is at risk if the renovations are not done. She said a renovated conference centre would generate an additional $30 million in delegate spending annually.

In order to meet the January 2004 deadline of the World Economic Forum, and because the renovations are long overdue, work will start this year. The Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual meeting is scheduled for the conference centre in September, so full-scale renovations may not begin before then.

Councillor Ken Melamed commented that the conference centre renovations are an opportunity to show the provincial government how Whistler uses a financial tool it’s been given – the hotel tax – to reinvest in resort infrastructure, and how the project is an overall benefit to the province.

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