RMOW outlines tools to entice village rejuvenation 

Mike Furey and Barrett Fisher report on status of six-month EPI recommendations

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Landlords and businesses take note: the municipality is keeping an open mind, and an open door, on creative solutions to address the age-old problem of growing old.

To breathe new life into some stale areas of the village, RMOW has created a "toolbox" with a list of nine tools at its disposal — property tax exemptions, covenant conversions, and rezonings to name a few — with an aim of enticing the private sector to keep up with the times.

Whistler's public-sector ideas are not revolutionary and have been tested out in various ways in the past; the difference is a new willingness to work together and find solutions in an effort to keep Whistler vibrant and fresh.

"We're looking for businesses or property owners who are doing something extraordinary in terms of reinvesting in their properties," said municipal CAO Mike Furey.

These are not tax breaks or rezonings to help fix a leaky roof or repair a damaged exterior. These tools would be used if a property, for example, wanted to move from a dated three-star billing to a six-star showpiece.

The options are all outlined in the recently presented Village Rejuvenation and Reinvestment Initiative, an initiative that Furey called: "the centerpiece of that reinvestment and building confidence in the resort economy."

That mission — to stimulate Whistler's economy — was outlined in the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) report that was delivered six months ago, one of the key research and action documents to come out of council's term in office.

Furey presented an update on the 60 recommendations that were listed in that report at the last council meeting, July 15.

"I think we're making really good progress on delivering on the initiatives overall," said Furey.

"It's been really well received."

The report, and its recommendations have been incorporated into the municipal budgeting cycle. It is an active, living document, so much more than the body of its research, which backed up long-held assumptions about the resort economy — who is driving it and how much Whistler is driving other levels of government in turn.

"I think it's really helped get the resort focused on the drivers on the economy," said Furey of the unequivocal findings showing Whistler's reliance on the destination visitor, the winter destination visitor in particular.

"That in itself wasn't a new concept... but I think it was the fact that the community re-embraced that and understood it with the data to support it."

Of the 19 short-term EPI actions, six have been completed and the remaining 13 are ongoing or a work in progress. They include: campaigning to revise provincial liquor laws, engaging local landlords and moving ahead with educational tourism opportunities.

Most of the 37 medium-term actions are underway, too, including the master wayfinding project and the cultural connector.

Many of the recommendations are intertwined.

Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher said this week that it is also on track on delivering the EPI initiatives that were delegated to Tourism Whistler, namely with an eye to expanding group and conference business.

"That's probably some of the bigger actions that we've been working on," said Fisher.

Tourism Whistler has completed the $550,000 Rainbow Theatre upgrade with funds from the municipality's RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) money, funding from the province. Those upgrades were on time and under budget and Tourism Whistler is looking at re-facing the entrance of the theatre with the remaining funds to give it a more polished look.

Another $150,000 in RMI money has gone towards an "incentive fund" to help confirm meetings business that otherwise may not have put Whistler's bid first.

"We have been working diligently to successfully attract businesses that fill need periods, such as shoulder season months and mid-week," said Fisher, of the incentive program which is well underway.

This program will be completed by year-end.

The other major task, said Fisher, was to engage an economic impact review of the expansion of the conference centre with a budget of $40,000, also from RMI municipal funds. That contract has been awarded with an aim to look at the potential expansion of the conference centre to include a second ballroom and where those potential sites might be. It will also look at potential group business and the revenues that it might attract. And it will look at the potential costs.

"On all the initiatives that we've been assigned, we're well under way," said Fisher.

A handful of EPI initiatives have yet to be tackled: weather-independent attractions, resort-wide parking and traffic management, and the Function Junction plan.

"We have to prioritize some things," said Furey.

As for the village rejuvenation tools, there are no projects before council for consideration at this time.

"We've had some preliminary discussions but there's nothing really concrete," said Furey.

He's calling for some collaboration and creative thinking about ways to employ the municipal tools on a case-by-case basis, adding: "We're prepared to engage in dialogue to try and find the right mix."

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