There may be free outdoor skating in the village every winter now that council is considering a $1.4 million investment for permanent refrigeration equipment.
The project was part of the proposed Five-Year Financial Plan before council Tuesday — the first time the plan, in detail, has been made public.
The budget also shows that an ice rink in Whistler Olympic Plaza will cost an additional $300,000 in operating costs every year.
The money for both the capital investment and the annual operating costs will come from the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding, which totals $6.3 million from the province this year.
That's down more than a million dollars over last year. In fact, it's the lowest amount of RMI in the last six and a half years since Whistler has been getting the provincial boost.
"We've never really known how the province has actually calculated what we get exactly since it's moved away from being the four per cent hotel tax to RMI monies," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "But we've known that they've related them somehow to hotel occupancies."
Last year was a challenging year in the resort in the aftermath of the 2010 Olympics.
The mayor agreed that the record-breaking months of 2012 could spell good news for next year's RMI funding.
"Absolutely it is," she said.
Whistler receives the RMI monies from the province for tourism related projects, as do 13 other resort communities.
The largest RMI grant was in 2008 at $7.6 million. The smallest is this year at $6.3.
Despite the drop in RMI this year, down from $7.5 million last year, Whistler is considering the investment into the ice rink.
"From all accounts it was very popular," said Wilhelm-Morden.
Close to 20,000 skaters had a turn about the ice surface, approved by the previous council for roughly half a million dollars as a pilot project. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
On the last weekend of the rink's operations in March Nicole Whelan of Vancouver told
Pique that she hoped the ice surface would be back next year.
"Absolutely, that would be a shame if it wasn't here," said Whelan who was there with her daughters Sarah Elizabeth and Rebecca. "We had so much fun."
The municipal communications department confirmed that staff "is currently exploring permanent refrigeration options for the area covered by the pavilion roof and possibly the skateway that was situated on the lawn area. Part of the exercise is looking at the configuration of the unprotected (beyond the pavilion roof) ice area, means of refrigeration and options for heat recovery."
Work would begin after the last scheduled event at the plaza "with the goal of having an operational ice surface for the Christmas holidays."
RMI funding is playing an increasingly critical role in the municipal budget.
New this year is an RMI Oversight Committee that will be reviewing how the RMI money is spent. Council announced Tuesday that Michelle Leroux will be the community-at-large member for that committee. The first meeting will be taking place this spring.
This year, the biggest single line item in the RMI budget is the almost $2.7 million for the Festivals, Events and Animation Program (FE&A) — the same amount as last year. This is the program that last summer brought the free concert series to the plaza including the Bare Naked Ladies, Tom Cochrane and the Sam Roberts Band. It's not clear what the program will look like this year. A detailed presentation on that program is planned for the May 1 council meeting.
Other operating expenditures coming out of RMI funds are: Village Host program ($243,000), Whistler Olympic Plaza operating costs ($266,000) and Village Services ($400,000).
The RMI is also used to fund capital projects.
Almost $340,000 from RMI monies will go to the Rainbow Theatre Renovation. That's a $2.5 million project to transform the theatre into a state of the art digital theatre for the Whistler Film Festival. The bulk of the money — $2.2 million — is expected to come from external funding.
A quarter of a million dollars in RMI monies is slated for Village Square and Mall Rejuvenation. That same $250,000 commitment has been made year over year for the next five years as Whistler works to freshen up the village with improvements to landscaping, seating, lighting, way finding and other public amenities.
Another longer-term, and somewhat controversial RMI project— the over $5 million Visitor Amenity Hub — kicks off this year with a $30,000 expense to review past studies and engage resort stakeholders.