The municipality has set the ball rolling for a half-million dollar renovation to the long-neglected Rainbow Theatre, a project designed to drive conference business to the resort.
The $500,000 budget is a far cry from the $2.7 million revamp of the theatre proposed by the Whistler Film Festival, a project that was denied a federal grant earlier this year.
But it will bring the aging theatre into the 21st century.
"It's going to be a substantial improvement over what's there now," said Councillor Jayson Faulkner.
"I think it's a really appropriate use of RMI funding."
That RMI funding, or Resort Municipality Initiative funding, is about $7 million annually from the province, aimed at tourism-related projects.
The municipality will be asking the province for permission to move $150,000 in RMI funds to the already-approved Rainbow Theatre renovation budget of $350,000 that was slated for the film festival's large-scale project if all funding came through.
Shawn Williamson, chair of the Whistler Film Festival Society, said in a statement that they were pleased with the funding announcement.
"As you know, the Whistler Film Festival Society has been campaigning to transform the Rainbow Theatre into a state-of-the-art digital theatre. Our intent has always been to create an upgraded facility that would be suitable for film screenings, enable us to expand our programming and profile year round, and provide a multifunctional space for business rentals, the community and resort visitors."
The goal is to entice more conference business — an agreed-upon resort-wide strategy — to grow Whistler's economy.
Conference business accounts for 22 per cent of room nights in the summer and 11 per cent of room nights in the winter. Between 45,000 to 55,000 room nights every year are from guests using the Whistler Conference Centre. The Rainbow Theatre, which is part of the conference centre, has been cut out of extensive updates to the larger space over the years.
"Tourism Whistler recognizes the opportunity to refurbish the facility, improve it and attract additional guests," said Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience.
"What one would expect, of course, is more utilization."
Tourism Whistler is projecting the theatre will be used 80 more days, in addition to the 40 days currently used.
Revenues are then expected to increase $80,000 per year.
Councillor Duane Jackson asked that council be apprised throughout the design phase of any potential opportunities that may not have been explored at this point.
"It'd be important to do it right," he said. "And $500,000 will get us part of the way there."
The upgrades include: replacing carpet in the lobby, corridor and theatre, fresh paint, removing the carpet and paint covering from the walls, new seating, replacing all ceiling tiles and updating lighting fixtures and audio visual equipment.
The work is set to get underway from mid-December to February, which is off-season for meeting groups. It will also ensure the venue is available for the Whistler Film Festival from Dec. 4-8 if organizers choose to use it for the annual festival.
Tourism Whistler will administer and manage the project.
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