Event producers walk a fine line 

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So Dean Nelson is threatening to take his successful WinterPRIDE festival elsewhere unless they get some money from the municipality's Festivals Events & Animation budget.

And Shauna Hardy-Mishaw, while grateful for the $90,000 of FE&A funding the Whistler Film Festival will receive in 2013, is mystified why her festival won't get the $125,000 it received last year.

Welcome to the trough of free money. All are welcome to apply.

Of course it's not free. It's not even "taxpayers' money" according to a previous administration. Some hotel operators consider it their money because the formula the province uses for allocating Resort Municipality Initiative funds — which Whistler uses to fund the FE&A budget, among other things — is based on occupancy levels. The hotels generated the money, the thinking goes, so they should have a say in how it is spent.

Recognizing the potential perils of this trickle-down funding system, the current mayor and council wisely sought, and received, a multi-year commitment from the province to RMI funding, which allows long-term planning of festivals and events rather than year-to-year decisions. And then council established an oversight committee to advise them on how the FE&A funding should be allocated.

The first difficult decision came in December, when the oversight committee recommended WinterPRIDE's request for funding be turned down. The funding would have allowed them to bring in a mainstream celebrity to augment the festival. The rationale was Whistler would be busy already during the first week of February so it wouldn't be a wise use of FE&A dollars.

"To some degree it would have been kind of dumb for us to throw money at that," were the words of Roger McCarthy, the council representative on the committee.

But now that this year's WinterPRIDE has wrapped up, Nelson is looking for a financial commitment from Whistler for 2014. His case: he says WinterPRIDE has a $4.5 million impact on Whistler each year.

Hardy-Mishaw says the Whistler Film Festival has a $5.1 million economic impact on the province, of which $2.8 million is in Whistler. On top of that, the 2011 film festival delivered $13.5 million in media value for a "total value proposition" of $18.6 million.

The quest to prove whose festival is bigger has, to this point, been a mug's game. There have been a variety of studies and measures, not all of them comparable.

An Economic Impact Assessment conducted during the 2006 World Ski and Snowboard Festival found the festival generated $37.7 million in economic activity in the province, including $21.3 million in Whistler.

A 2006 study for the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association found Crankworx generated more than $11.5 million in expenditures that year.

The 2011 RBC GranFondo Whistler generated $8.2 million in economic activity in the province, including $2.7 million in Whistler. Cornucopia produced $4 million in total economic impact in B.C. in 2011; $2.3 million in Whistler.

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