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A $7 million renovation of the Whistler Conference Centre could begin next spring, providing the financing for the project is found.

A $7 million renovation of the Whistler Conference Centre could begin next spring, providing the financing for the project is found. And financing will likely involve some sort of corporate sponsorship, Barrett Fisher, vice president of marketing for the Whistler Resort Association, said last week. The municipality is also likely to provide some money for the upgrade. Plans for the renovation, drawn by Lutz and Associates Architects, the West Vancouver firm which designed the Roundhouse Lodge and Glacier Creek restaurants, show new entrances to the conference centre, an expanded ballroom, a business centre with the latest in electronic communications, and additional meeting space through the takeover of the former Mountain World space. The most visible changes will be at the main entrance to the conference centre. The Whistler Activity and Information Centre will be moved from its present location to the former Mountain World entrance, while a new gabled entry to the conference centre will feature stone, heavy timbers and glass, materials more in keeping with Whistler architecture. The stairs from the underground parking lot will also be rebuilt and a new entrance to the conference centre added at this location. A glass atrium area will be added to the left of the present entrance, adding space to the existing atrium and providing views of Whistler Mountain. The current atrium will be covered over, so that the floor is at the same level as the Sea to Sky Ballroom. This will add space below the atrium for the business centre and additional meeting space. The wall which currently separates the Sea to Sky Ballroom from the atrium will also be moved toward the entrance, to expand the ballroom from its current capacity of 1,600 to 2,500. The ballroom will be divisible into three separate areas. A new roof, likely featuring metal shingles rather than the existing metal sheets, is planned and finishing and furnishing upgrades throughout the interior are part of the upgrade. The increased ballroom capacity, meeting room space and new entrance are intended to allow the conference centre, which was originally built as an arena, to handle two or more functions at one time. The revised atrium is designed to provide pre-conference space for two or more groups before they enter the ballrooms. The proposed renovations and design are based on feedback from sales people throughout the resort. The WRA estimates the conference centre currently has about a $15.5 million annual economic impact on the resort, but says that is at risk if the conference centre isn’t upgraded. The estimated economic impact of a renovated conference centre on the resort is up to $40 million annually. While the proposed construction schedule would see completition of the renovations by Jan. 1, 2001, Fisher stressed that none of the plans are final until funding is confirmed. The WRA has been building a reserve fund to help finance a new roof for several years but additional funds are needed.