Yes, the free concerts are returning.
Members of the Festivals, Events & Animation Oversight Committee revealed the details of the $2.68 million FE&A program to council on Tuesday evening (May 1), which will include a mix of new programming and the return of previous festivals, as well as four free concerts under the Whistler Presents banner to fill gaps in the summer programming.
Just who exactly will be playing these concerts is yet to be determined, but the first show is slated for the second week of July.
"We have to hit the ground running as quick as possible," said John Rae, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's manager of strategic alliances during his presentation to council.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that the concerts are not designed to bring tourists to Whistler, but rather to enhance the experience for those that are already in town. A lesson learned from last year was that the 2011 Whistler Presents series did not drive significant room night numbers.
However, the FE&A program as a whole is designed to drive room nights focusing on visitors from B.C. and Washington State. Targeting Ontario is also part of the plan.
Since concerts are no longer considered drivers for room nights significantly less money will be allocated for each individual concert. Rather than paying between $500,000-$600,000 per night, Wilhem-Morden said they'll spend $140,000 per night.
"There's a real shift in thinking about the concerts," she said.
Council created the committee in March as a way to engage community partners to decide the best ways to spend the FE&A-designated Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds. A working group — made up of various community stakeholders, including Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Arts Council — met 14 times under the guidance of the Oversight Committee to determine the best use of the funds.
The Oversight Committee includes member-at-large Sue Adams, Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher, council representative Roger McCarthy, RMOW CAO Mike Furey and RMOW manager of resort experience Jan Jansen.
FE&A programming will begin for the May long weekend and will run through the fall, ending with the village New Year's Eve celebrations. Original programming has been allotted $875,000 and will include the four free concerts, as well as the launch of a multi-day fall festival that Rae says will be the foundation of a long-term room-night driver for Whistler.
"We're going to be reaching out to various industry partners and saying, 'what is the best way? What is the best programming? What's the best theming to put in the marketplace to be able to attract people at that time of year?'" Rae said.
Another $645,000 has been reserved for village animation, $475,000 has been earmarked for augmentation of existing events and $55,000 has been allocated for the testing and development of new festivals — $25,000 for the First Nation's Festival, $5,000 for the Intercultural Festival and another $25,000 unallocated for future events.
Third party event producers were asked to submit their proposals for RMI funding by April 25, with the final decisions made Monday.
According to Rae, the intent of the augmentation funds was to add programming to existing events to increase the likelihood of success and not to "underwrite or bailout any organization."
Adams said that total value of request proposals amounted to $1,099,000, more than double the budgeted amount, and that some difficult decisions had to be made. The recipients for 2012 RMI augmentation funding include: $45,000 to the Children's Arts Festival, $35,000 to Cornucopia, $100,000 to Crankworx Whistler, $75,000 to Granfondo, $100,000 to the new Wanderlust festival and $125,000 to the Whistler Film Festival.
The committee based its decisions for funding on three criteria: alignment with the Whistler brand, the quality of programming, and the benefits to Whistler.
Doti Niedermayer, the WAC's executive director and member of the FE&A working group, said she's pleased with the committee's decision to accept the WAC-produced Children's Arts Festival proposal — though the event received $15,000 less than it asked for — and said they made "the right decisions" on what to fund, both for new and for longstanding events.
Niedermayer was one of the first people to ask for an oversight process for spending the RMI money and said the new committee is a massive step in the right direction.
"I absolutely feel that the process was so much better this year. It took a lot longer because it was including other members of the community and other experts, but I think now people can actually stand by the decisions," she said.
"The RMI has specific goals and objectives, and I think that's where they focused their decisions, and that's why I think their decisions were made correctly."
Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler's request for $150,000 was denied, resulting in the cancellation of festival. Founder and organizer Arnold Schwisberg says the $500,000 deficit from the financial flop of the 2011 event was too large for him to invest any more capital.
"Everything was hinging on the municipality," Schwisberg said.
"I'm hugely disappointed and really sorry for many fans and festival-goers who did find it an absolutely amazing lifetime experience."
Schwisberg has now decided to sue the RMOW for trademark infringement, seeking $704,000 in damages.
The FE&A strategy is designed to enhance resort experience while driving hotel room nights throughout the resort. According to Rae, each event should align with the Whistler brand, deliver positive economic impacts, strengthen Whistler's reputation as a destination for sport, art, culture and entertainment, grow the FE&A program and assist in achieving provincial RMI goals to drive tourism through B.C..
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