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RMI grant funds big projects

Visitor hub will be paid for through provincial money

Day lot parking upgrades, the Rainbow Theatre renovation and Whistler Olympic Plaza are just three projects to be paid for through the 2011 Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding.

RMI funds are given to B.C. resort municipalities by the province to fund projects specific to generating tourism and cannot be used for normal municipal operations. A complete list of all capital projects must be submitted to the province every year for approval before the funds are given out.

"The funding is awarded annually at discretion of the province, and while we don't have an indication of the level of funding beyond the current year, we anticipate the funding to be $1 million less in 2012 (i.e. $6.5 million)," wrote Diana Mulvey, communications officer for the RMOW, in an email to Pique .

This year the RMOW will receive $7.5 million from the province through the RMI funds, $1 million more than expected. $720,000 of this million will go toward the upgrades of day lots 4 and 5 while the remaining $280,000 will be saved for the 2012 budget year. The extra money is being saved to help support a massive project the municipality will undertake in 2012 -the brand new visitor amenity hub.

The proposed $7.2 million amenity hub will be paid for completely by RMI funds over the next four years, with $200,000 earmarked for 2011 for a preliminary feasibility study and background business plan, which Jan Jansen, general manger of resort experience for the RMOW, said is already underway.

"It's really getting the partners together, engaging a consultant and working through it, understanding what the model could look like," Jansen said. "It's essentially understanding the numbers that come with it and if it flies financially. If it doesn't fly financially there's no project."

If it moves forward, the hub will streamline all visitors to one central location as a pick-up and drop-off point for shuttles and other bus services. Details have yet to be finalized but plans for the facility may also include car rental services, hotel check-in and checkout terminals, information services and storage areas. The remaining $7 million will be spread out over the following three years - $1 million in 2012, $3.5 million in 2013 and $2.5 million in 2014 - under the assumption that the RMOW will receive the usual $6.5 million from the province.

The RMI was at one time the Resort Municipality Transfer Tax (RMTT) and was generated from the four per cent taken from the PST on hotel rooms then given back to resort municipalities for funding tourism-related projects. Once HST was introduced, the system had to be re-jigged and is now a government grant. With the RMTT, the amount of funds varied depending on how well the municipality's hotels were doing. Now, the government announces yearly what the amount will be and the RMOW's budgeting department forecasts that number to be $6.5 million, although they received an extra $1 million this year.

"We need to do a five year plan, so we've put out there that $6.5 million is what we have in the go-forward," said Lisa Landry, RMOW's general manager of economic viability.

The 2011 RMI funds are split between operating costs and project funding. All together, $3,599,945 will be used for operations and $6,248, 029 will be used to fund projects in 2011. This includes a $2.3 million carry-over from previous RMTT years.

Over $3.8 million has been set-aside for Whistler Olympic Plaza, although $2.3 million of that is money carried over from the RMTT days.

"We're being a little sensitive to that. We don't want the province to think, 'Oh, gee whiz, you've been saving all this money.' We haven't been. It's just been a timing issue," Landry said. "You take on a multi-million dollar project and it takes time (to complete)."

An additional $400,000 has been set aside for performance infrastructure, including amps, lighting, audio system and portable chairs.

The RMOW has committed $500,000 to the Rainbow Theatre renovation project. Another $150,000 will be spent on general Whistler Conference Centre upgrades, and that same amount will be contributed every year until 2015. $50,000 will be used to fund Susan Point's public art project, which will be installed at Whistler Olympic Plaza in the fall.

"We're getting a nice piece of art for what we're spending," Jansen said, noting that the $50,000 is merely the 2011 contribution to the total cost for the project. Another $20,000 is earmarked for 2012.

Other RMI-funded projects will include $147,000 for a scaled-back plan for Cheakamus Crossing's Bayly Park and $351,826 to complete the Cheakamus Crossing portion of the Valley Trail.

$200,000 has been set aside for renovations and transportation of the old Whistler Chamber log building - which has been sitting empty at the entrance to Cheakamus Crossing - to Spruce Grove Park, where it will become the new home for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. Another $25,000 will be used to build fences at the Spruce Grove baseball field.

Of the $3,599,945 million, $2.1 million is earmarked for the RMOW's Festivals, Events and Animation program, which will ramp up animations and programming in the Village and at Whistler Olympic Plaza. $241,000 is set for the Plaza's operating costs, while $243,659 is set for the Village Host program. $120,000 is earmarked for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability and the remaining $400,000 will be used for general Village services. Another $470,000 will be issued to the RMOW's external partners at the Visitor Info Centre, Whistler Spirit Program, Whistler Arts Council and the Whistler Film Festival Society.