The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is making progress at reducing an annual deficit of over $1 million is has shouldered since opening four years ago.
This past fiscal year for the facility, April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012 saw the organization work to reduce that shortfall down below $1 million for the first time with an expectation next year will see a further estimated reduction of $100,000.
While executive director Casey Vanden Heuvel would not provide The Question specific figure amounts he said it reflects the fact the cultural centre is working hard at becoming financially sustainable.
“The situation on the challenging side of the coin is, as a business enterprise not-for-profit we are still not breaking even,” he said. “The good news is for the first time our loss was less than a million.
“We are improving, however we still have a ways to go yet to consider ourselves self-sufficient.”
The organization has program specific government support, like a $161,000 museum assistance program grant it received last week from the federal government. But Vanden Heuvel explained it is the Squamish and Lil’wat nations that cover the operational deficits of the cultural centre.
He added the financial challenge has been because the facility was established with overhead and expenditures that had an expectation of much higher revenues.
In the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics the momentum and funding from government and sponsors like Bell and RBC made it possible for the Squamish and Lil’wat to build the cultural centre for a total cost of $33 million.
Revenue expectations, however, were based on a percentage of existing winter visitors to a major destination resort. Vanden Heuvel said at the time the consultants overestimated the facility would break even within two to three years.
“It is not happening quite as fast because it was an overestimation of our ability to attract that percentage of winter guests,” he said. “The winter guest is a snow-loving adventure hound, which is absolutely great but doesn’t really match our target (visitor).”
As a result Vanden Heuvel said the centre has been striving to make connections with the community and other organizations as well as targeting the travel trade for exposure to attract guests.
The Rocky Mountaineer, he added, is a good example but it takes time to develop those relationships and increase visitation. Having celebrated four years of operation in July the cultural centre has had 200,000 visitors and 100,000 paid admission guests.
Revenues are also being seen through retail and café sales and Vanden Heuvel pointed to the sale of gallery pieces and hosting special events as other sources that are being developed.
“We are a beautiful facility,” he said. “We need the market to understand what we are capable of and what we can deliver with our catering department, which includes the Four Seasons and Fairmont.
“Our retail portion of what we do has shown very strong improvements and we are really trying to expand on that.
“We now have quite a significant inventory of gallery pieces and one of a kind artwork.”
Vanden Heuvel while said there is still work to be done to become financially sustainable the centre is improving. He added it is also successful by training First Nations youth through its ambassador program with 350 having been trained in the tourism industry so far.