Whistler can look forward to a more robust Festival, Events and Animation (FE&A) Program going into 2014, including a first-time signature festival aimed at curbing the unruly behaviour seen during this year's May Long Weekend.
Municipal manager of strategic alliances John Rae outlined the RMOW's $3.16-million 2014 FE&A Program, up over $500,000 from last year's investment, to council last Tuesday (Oct. 15).
The budget could go towards boosting returning big-ticket events, like Ironman, Crankworx and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, as well as support original programming, to the tune of nearly $1 million. An additional $467,000 will go towards expanded street animation this winter, with two nights of animation a week instead of one, and 15 weeks of programming instead of last year's eight. As a result, municipal staff plans to offer more of the popular Fire and Ice Shows, Family Nights, and a full programming schedule during the Sochi Winter Games in Olympic Plaza.
“This will all be very appealing to residents and guests alike,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
Council also approved $1.2-million in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) reserve funds Tuesday to allow for more advance planning and marketing for 2014 programming ahead of the province's annual funding confirmation, which is typically in May.
“Early funding will enable us to achieve many things; we'll be able to invest in programming that occurs in July through April,” Rae said. “It'll also enable us to invest in events on preferred dates and secure performers and street entertainers.”
The FE&A Oversight Committee, according to Rae, wants to ensure the criteria for investing is broadened “particularly for third-party events and festivals to make sure it's not just augmentation (funding)” in order to retain popular events and attract new ones.
With a recommendation in the RMOW's recently released Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) report to use programming funds to support homegrown events, Wilhelm-Morden is confident local event producers will receive due consideration for augmentation funds this year.
“Certainly, there is the whole principle of authenticity, which is something that's being considered, and (those funds) generally speaking tend to go to more homegrown local kinds of events,” she said.
In an effort to address unruly behaviour during the 2013 Victoria Day Long Weekend, which resulted in significant property damage to several Village retail stores and vehicles, the RMOW committed $290,000 for the development of a family-oriented festival that will serve as the opening to Whistler's busy summer season.
“We are looking at a significant event for May Long Weekend to support council's direction at looking into improving the guest experience for May 24 from what it is today and trying to grow it into a new festival for the community,” said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey. “It's going to be developed from the ground up by all the partners here in Whistler.”
Dennis Hilton, local hotelier and chair of the Respect Whistler Coordinating Committee, a community group formed after a particularly rowdy Victoria Day in 2006, congratulated the municipality's initiative to develop a signature festival for the busy long weekend this spring. The May holiday has historically been a popular weekend for young regional visitors, who flock to the resort to take advantage of cheaper hotel rates during shoulder season.
“With any of the events that have been going on in Whistler over the last few years, all the right people have been attracted. Rates go up so the people who want to pay nothing don't show up,” he said. “I think this is fantastic, and long overdue, and congratulations to mayor and council for taking this on.”