RMOW begins paving the way around town 

Detailed work on wayfinding around Whistler gets underway

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Whistler businesses are keen to see the municipality move ahead with its $1.5 million plans to enhance the village experience for tourists, particularly as it begins with helping them find their way around town.

Just ask Splitz Grill owner Cathy McGeogh, who has been beating the same drum for a few years now. She owns the iconic burger joint on Main Street that lies off the beaten village path. Main Street, she said, can be a tough sell, often busy with trucks, and a little ways off the stroll.

"People think it's the back door of the village... it's tough to make a living," said McGeogh. "We used to be a bit complacent and I think that now we're not. We're asking our muni to do more for us than they have in the past."

By the end of this year the municipality will complete a Master Wayfinding and Arrival Experience Strategy. It will be the blueprint for municipal decision making and investments over the next five years.

The focus of the early work this year is to improve wayfinding — how people get from place to place.

"The first phase is very much for vehicles and pedestrians as they're coming to the village," said Councillor John Grills, the council rep on the larger Whistler 3.0 project.

It's one thing to meander the village on a nice sunny day, finding new haunts, discovering hidden gems. It's quite another in the winter with the rain pelting down.

"In the wintertime, or in inclement weather, you want to get there as quickly as possible," added Grills.

Having the way marked, highlighting key areas with portals and gateway markers can ease the way.

Jane Hague, manager of Excess Ski & Sport in the Upper Village, is confident that that improved wayfinding will help tourists find their way to the oft-overlooked Upper Village. And that's good news for businesses there.

"The concerns that we have is just getting foot traffic from the main village to the Upper Village," she said.

"There's so much to offer (in the Upper Village) but people get stuck in the village... because they feel like it's a long way away."

Having clear signage to let people know that it's not a long walk up there is key.

"I do think it will make a difference," she said. "I hope so, after all the time and effort that went into it."

The recent work flows from recommendations in the municipal Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) committee.

"There was a significant focus on the village both from the rejuvenation project to the wayfinding project to cultural connectors and so on," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, referring to the other project on the go, connecting various cultural facilities through signage.

"During the course of the work that was done by the EPI Committee there's just no question that one of the things that really distinguishes us from our competitors is the pedestrian-oriented village. It became quite clear that work had to be done to improve that whole guest experience with the village, and wayfinding (was) a key component that came up time and again. So this project is a direct result of the work that was done by EPI."

And while it may not be moving as fast as hoped for some, the project is gathering steam. The project team is now assessing the current Whistler arrival experience, infrastructure and attributes. The work will involve documenting the experience travelling from the airport to a Whistler hotel, as well as doing intensive stakeholder interviews this week.

Some wayfinding elements are expected to be in place by the end of this year with more to come out of the 2015 municipal budgeting process.

"We can't sit back," said the mayor. "We're in a highly competitive industry and we need to continually ensure that the village is the best it can be."

And that's music to ears of local business owners.

"Sometimes it takes a little longer than you would like for things to happen," said McGeogh.

"Businesses are now saying 'we want to have this done now.'"

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