Cost of Whistler Conference Centre upgrade jumps to $22 million 

New environmentally-friendly design would showcase best of "green" technology

The price tag for the Whistler Conference Centre upgrade has jumped from $7.5 million to $22 million, but Tourism Whistler says the new "green" design will reap huge financial, social and economic benefits for the resort.

Tourism Whistler has applied for an infrastructure grant for the project that would see the cost split three ways. The province and the federal government would each bear a third of the cost and the Resort Municipality and Tourism Whistler would fund the balance, hopefully with the help of corporate sponsorship.

The RMOW has already committed $3.75 million from its hotel occupancy tax coffers to the upgrade.

Tourism Whistler president Suzanne Denbak says she doesn’t know when she will hear if the grant application is successful, but she says the proposal should find a receptive audience, given the long-term benefits it would bring to the government.

"The conference centre now generates around $19 million a year in delegate spending and this figure would be boosted to $49 million annually with the new design facility," she explains.

"This translates into an additional $11.6 million in direct government revenue through hotel tax, PST and GST." However, she adds that current income levels from the centre will decline steadily unless urgent steps are taken. She says the conference centre still looks like the arena it was originally designed to be and an overhaul is long overdue.

"If Whistler is going to achieve its goal of being a four-season resort it needs to grow business in the spring, summer and fall," she says. "While the resort performs well in the shoulder-season recreation and leisure business, we are missing out on the extremely lucrative conference and meetings market because the centre is not up to modern standards."

The call for a conference centre upgrade has been a Tourism Whistler priority for more than two years now but the proposed design of the building has been constantly evolving.

A plan was released by the contract architects Lutz Associates last fall, but it subsequently went back to the drawing board with a goal to create "the greenest and most environmentally-sustainable conference centre in North America."

The latest design retains the structural features of the earlier plan.

It still allows for a 3,000-delegate capacity, flexible meeting room facilities able to cater for up to 10 different events at once and a grand-hall style entrance.

Wood and natural stone accentuate the North West theme of the new design, and the maximum single-room capacity has jumped from 1,400 to 2,300 delegates. It also features sophisticated conferencing facilities such as satellite links, high-speed Internet access and plug-and-play infrastructure.

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