The Whistler Film Festival Society is focusing on its signature event this winter, now that efforts to see renovations to the Rainbow Theatre have fallen short.
WFFS executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw made a passionate, and at times tense, appeal to council last week to have funds released so the first phase of upgrades for the municipally owned facility can begin immediately.
However, the lease holder of the theatre, Tourism Whistler, unanimously passed a motion at its board meeting the same day to require that all funds be secured for the entire project and a sound business plan be in place, before it may begin.
“We have to stand up for what we believe in and when you have a vision like this, you get a few roadblocks, but you work through them and that is what we are doing,” Hardy Mishaw said this week. “We are moving full steam ahead … we will raise the full amount.”
The entire project, which was proposed to happen in three phases, is estimated to cost $2.67 million. The society has building permits in place, pre-construction efforts are complete and is essential ready to go. But, with the hope of work on the upgrade dashed for this year, Hardy Mishaw said efforts of the society are entirely focused on making this year’s film festival a signature event.
“I assure you this will be an absolutely monumental year for the Whistler Film Festival,” she said. “There are several new major partners to announce in the coming weeks.”
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the meeting last week was not very satisfying.
“There was tension in the room at committee of the whole last week and I just want to reiterate that we are supportive of the Whistler Film Festival Society and will continue to be so,” she said, adding she requested the society meet with council again in the near future.
In the meantime, however, the Economic Partnership Initiative committee has met and passed recommendations that were presented to the finance and audit committee by Friday (Sept. 21) by Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey.
The mayor said those recommendations will come in front of council and include confirmation of $340,000 in funding for the capital project for 2013.
The recommendation, while confirming financial support, also looks to the film festival to secure 100 per cent of its capital funding and provide a business plan “that demonstrates the viability of the ongoing operating model of the Rainbow Theatre/Festival theatre upon completion of the renovation.”
Wilhelm-Morden said with a major capital project it is prudent to have all funding in place before it begins. It also gives the EPI committee time to look at economic drivers in Whistler, which includes conference businesses and as a result would include looking at the conference centre facility.
“With that in mind it does not make a lot of sense to make an investment in the Rainbow Theatre right now if the conference centre as a whole is going to be looked at,” said the mayor.
She added an update to the society’s 2010 business plan is also something needed before the project can go ahead.
Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher echoed those concerns, saying the organization wants to ensure all aspects of funding sources, sustainable operations and the business model are sound.
“In any good business plan it is important to have an update on an annual basis of the strategic plan as to what the capital and operational plans are for the next five to ten years,” Fisher said, adding from a tourism perspective the organization thinks film is really important as a cultural asset. “It is challenging because all of us want to see a positive conclusion and a positive resolution to funding and construction as well as having a viable future operation, but in turn we all have to do our due diligence to make sure we do have a sound sustainable long-term plan both for renovations and operation of the facility.”
The arrangement between Tourism Whistler and WFFS means that the festival’s sublease of the theatre would begin once it ready to begin the capital upgrades. TW’s recent motion gives until Sept. 18, 2013 for that to happen.
Fisher that gives the board an opportunity to review the status and progress of the project.
“We actually began this agreement three years ago and within that agreement we are basically putting the facility on hold in order for them to raise the funding to renovate the building and create this upgraded theatre that would meet their festival needs,” she said. “Because we could actually rent the theatre out to another user, what the board of directors has been doing is that we get periodic updates as to where they are at with their funding and the project.”
If WFFS has still not reached its goals in year, Fisher said that is a bridge that will be crossed when the time comes, but reiterated Tourism Whistler believes in the project and strongly supports it.
Hardy Mishaw said the upgrades to the theatre are critical for the society to become financially sustainable. The organization has run a deficit since it began 12 years ago, this year it was short approximately $200,000 between revenues and expenses.
Currently the festival runs five days at the end of November, beginning of December, but with the theatre complete it would be able to hold 255 days of programming resulting in a projected revenue stream of $255,000 within three years.