Decision on WEF coming to Whistler expected in next 90 days 

Whistler is "definitely still in the game," Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said Tuesday following a meeting the previous day with World Economic Forum officials in New York about the forum holding its annual meeting in Whistler in January of 2004.

A decision has to be made within 90 days in order to have conference centre renovations completed by 2004, the mayor added.

O’Reilly said the provincial and federal governments are very supportive of the World Economic Forum coming to Whistler.

O’Reilly, now in Salt Lake City for the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics, will be back in Whistler next week and will tell council his impressions of the World Economic Forum held in New York Jan. 31-Feb. 4.

O’Reilly, Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak, and Councillor Ted Milner were in New York last week at the invitation of World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab.

The Whistler delegation was impressed by the conference and the range of world leaders, in the arts, science, academic, political, business and "social entrepreneur" fields.

"It was amazing," O’Reilly said. "Sitting at the same table with Nobel laureates, religious leaders, listening to these world leaders."

They also felt there would be a tremendous opportunity to promote the resort’s sustainability initiative if the World Economic Forum is held in Whistler.

Denbak met Ray Anderson, founder of Interface Inc., at the New York meeting and said Anderson volunteered to help promote the sustainability initiative amongst other CEOs if the forum is held in Whistler.

Anderson was in Whistler last December as the second speaker in the Leadership Through Sustainability series of lectures.

Representatives of the World Economic Forum began examining Whistler as a potential host site for the forum last year. Discussions cooled when it became clear Whistler wasn’t ready to host the 2002 meeting. However, interest was rekindled in recent months.

In November O’Reilly said a Whistler group would be going to the New York meeting. Council has discussed the forum in private meetings but remains divided on whether it would be a good thing for Whistler.

There was some feeling in New York that Whistler may have already lost the opportunity to host the World Economic Forum by hesitating rather than jumping at the opportunity right away. However, O’Reilly said following his meeting with Schwab, that was not the case.

The forum is held in January, during the ski season. It attracts between 2,500 and 3,000 conference delegates as well as spouses and aids. The forum also attracts protesters – an estimated 7,000 in New York – and a large police force is needed to keep order and protect some of the world leaders who attend. A counter forum – Eye on Davos – is also held in the same location as the World Economic Forum.

Providing physical space for all these people, and the security measures for conference delegates, is a logistical problem for the host community. However, the World Economic Forum organizers believe it can be done in Whistler without hampering local businesses and the community.

Their plans will get a trial run in April when attendees of the G8 summit meet in Whistler on their way to Kananskis, Alberta. The federal government will cover security costs for the G8 meeting and would also do so if the World Economic Forum came to Whistler.

A further measure of federal and provincial government support for the World Economic Forum in Whistler is the offer to pay for the $22 million conference centre renovations. A new "green" plan for renovating the conference centre, which employs principles of sustainability, was unveiled last spring. If the World Economic Forum does commit to Whistler the renovations would include some communications technology upgrading specific to the forum.

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