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Rink approved for free village skating

Money to be reallocated in the RMI grant program

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One of last decisions of this council's term will likely be its most popular - a temporary ice rink in the heart of the village.

That decision has paved the way for free skating for all throughout the winter season.

Council approved a temporary 3,000-square-foot ice surface under the pavilion at Whistler Olympic Plaza and a 3,600-square-foot "skateway" jutting out into the great lawn.

The rink will cost about half a million dollars, the money to come from the provincial RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) grant money, designed to boost tourism in the resort.

Though there was general excitement about the proposal at Tuesday's council meeting, the last of this term, not all endorsed the project. The temporary rink passed in a 5-to-2 vote with Councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Grant Lamont shooting it down.

Both were concerned about the timing of the project.

"It's something that I would like to see in the future but I don't see it in the future for this year," said Lamont.

Tom Thomson, on the other hand, couldn't hide his excitement, saying the rink will add heart to the town.

"We want the heart pulsating in the village," he said.

The ice surface, along with a temporary refrigeration plant, is set to be operational days before Christmas and will run until April 2. It will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with two periods for public skate - one from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the other from 6 to 9 p.m.

The plaza will also have a small sliding hill, or "snow play pile" close to the playground and a small pick up hockey corral.

Figures presented by Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience, showed the cost for the surface, which will be provided by Cimco Refrigeration, is almost $330,000 plus taxes.

The municipality will need to buy some capital items such as an ice resurfacer, ice skates for rentals and a skate drier, among other things. It has budgeted just over $50,000 for those costs.

Operating costs are estimated at about $40,000 and staffing costs are a further $60,000.

Some revenues are expected through private party rentals to the tune of about $30,000.

Council, with the province's blessing, is rearranging monies from the $7.5 million RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) grant to pay for it. That money is to be used to grow tourism in the resort.

"I think it's a great use of these funds," said Councillor Chris Quinlan.

"It's going to be great for business and that's what this is about."

Councillor Ralph Forsyth echoed that praise saying the rink will draw locals back into town and Whistler is at its best when locals and guests are enjoying it together.

"It will bring guests as well as locals into the village," he said.

To make way for the rink, council agreed to rearrange its RMI funding.

It will now drop the $200,000 renovations to one of its log buildings and reduce the budget for a feasibility study on an amenity hub from $200,000 to $50,000. A further $137,000 was taken out of RMI reserves.

Mayor Ken Melamed said it was a good use of those funds, but he had some concerns about the reduced flexibility of the pavilion space, questioning if the ice rink would mean there would be no concerts in the space over the winter.

"I think we're going to learn a lot from this," he said of the first year's pilot project.

Zeidler explained his negative stance as an issue of timing. He would have liked to have seen the project put off for two weeks and taken on by the new council, set to be elected on Saturday.

"I think the timing is really, really unfortunate," he said.

Lamont added that the timing seemed a little rushed at this point and he would like to see how the municipality can partner with others going into the future, looking at, among other things, ways to generate revenue.

The idea of a village ice rink has been more than 20 years in the making.

It has long been on the community's wishlist.

Quinlan said: "I look forward to a New Year's Eve skate."

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