Deadline for Rainbow Theatre renovation extended 

$2 million still needed; WFFS “cautiously optimistic”

Rainbow Theatre renovations will not begin until the federal election is over and funds can be confirmed.

Not all the funds have yet been secured for the project, and a $1.1 million grant through Canadian Heritage's Cultural Spaces fund is currently on hold until after the May 2 election.

Shauna Mishaw-Hardy, director of the Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS), said at an open house at the theatre on Friday that the deadline for construction has been extended but it must begin on June 1 in order to be completed for the festival's run, from Nov. 30 - Dec. 4.

So far, 43 per cent - $985,0000 - of the project's budget has been secured. The WFFS is now waiting on the federal funds, which the RMOW applied for on behalf of the WFFS in October 2010. The municipality has budgeted a $500,000 capital contribution through RMI funding, which is still subject to approval.

About 50 people attended the open house, including Sea to Sky MP John Weston, Senator Nancy Greene Raine and The Honourable John Fraser, QC, to show support for the project. The open house was in part a showcase for the interior plans - on display in the theatre's foyer - and partly an appeal to possible donors, since the future of the project is still up in the air.

"If there's a change of government, there will be a new appointment. Who knows, (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper may make a giant change to the ministry - I hope not," Mishaw-Hardy said, adding she hopes there will be conclusion in May.

"There's a $2 million need right now," she said.

John Weston took some time out of his campaign for re-election on the Sea to Sky riding to lend support for, not just the theatre, but for the whole idea of Whistler re-inventing itself as a leading cultural destination.

"'Whistler Surprises' is my proposal for your next motto, the idea that Whistler surprises you in terms of being a literary community, in terms of being an arts community," he said, adding later that he is pushing for the funding in Ottawa to the best of his capabilities

Mayor Ken Melamed, addressing the crowd in his ski boots, said that the film festival should be considered the "next big thing" for Whistler.

"It's so exciting to think about taking the film festival to the next level and transforming this space," he said. "Let's repurpose this space and turn it into something that actually takes us to the next level in making arts and culture a real part of our package."

The WFF delivers an economic impact of about $10 million and is one of the leading cultural drivers for Whistler, especially now as the Cultural Tourism Development Strategy gets going. Mishaw-Hardy said the goal is to grow that to $20 million within five years and the theatre will play a large part in doing that.

"We are positioning the Whistler film festival to become one of the most important in the world, in one of the most inspiring and logical destinations and to be at the forefront of the digital impact of technology on film," Mishaw-Hardy said. "It's a big lofty goal, right? But we hosted the Games so why not put it out there."

But critical to the success of this plan is a renovated Rainbow Theatre that has the technological capabilities to show the best films and appeal to a wide audience. Mishaw-Hardy told Pique in the past that their programming is currently limited by technology.

Upgrades will include a complete renovation of the theatre, 275 brand new seats and a complete removal of the stage. There will also be state-of-the-art sound and projection technology. The renovation will cost $2.5 million plus another $500,000 for operations.

The Rainbow Theatre was built in 1985 along with the Whistler Conference Centre. It is owned by the RMOW and operated by Tourism Whistler. It has never been upgraded. The facility is rarely used and there is currently no film projection or sound equipment. The WFFS has had to bring equipment in for each of the festivals.

If the project is given the green light, the WFFS will host year-round programming outside the festival, from foreign and independent film runs to live performances.



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